Sierra Leone has been battling a severe outbreak of cholera for several months, but headlines have been scarce on the topic in the United States, despite the severity of the situation. The government of the northwestern African nation officially announced this month that the cholera outbreak is a national emergency after at least 176 deaths have been recorded. Al Jazeera notes that at least 10,800 cases of the disease have been reported since the beginning of the year.
The health ministry made an announcement which also suggests that the infection is spreading much further than just a few isolated areas with poor sanitation but into other urban areas of the nation. The World Health Organization has reported that at least eight of the 13 districts in Sierra Leone are seriously affected by cholera currently, and the west is of particular concern.
One particular neighborhood in the western part of the country, Susan’s Bay, has faced extremely bad conditions in the face of the growing pandemic. Situated to the east of the Freetown, this area has been particularly hard hit. All Africa quotes one of the leaders of the Susan’s Bay community, Mohamed Conteh, who said this about the sanitation situation:
Our authorities are not serious in addressing Cholera because since the outbreak, nobody has visited this community to sensitize us about the preventive methods. We are only being protected by God.
It has taken the government several months before any kind of task force was organized to address the situation. On Friday officials announced that a team would be sent out to sanitize households, clean up market stalls (where produce carrying cholera might dwell), and chlorinate wells in various neighborhoods.
Cholera spreads quickly in contaminated water and currently only about 57 percent of Sierra Leoneans have access to clean water. Most communities lack sanitary toilet facilities. The Africa Review notes that about 60 percent of toilets are pit toilets that often drain right into sources of drinking water.
Volunteer organizations have been trying to reach cases throughout the country in recent weeks, including the Sierra Leone Red Cross. One state doctor blamed heavy rainfall for some of the sanitation issues in the area, stating:
We are many times overstretched working from mornings to late evenings. The unprecedented rainfall which is dislodging clogged-up gutters and bringing garbage into the streets has added to the filth.
Cholera is an infection that disrupts the digestive system causing fever, diarrhea and vomiting. It can often be fatal and children are quickly affected by it. Another outbreak of the infection occurred this summer in Cuba where it was quickly contained, according to Cuban health officials.
Photo Credit: Vardion