One Health Resource Center

One Health Resource Center

August 21, 2017
2 min read

WHO works to prevent potential outbreaks after mudslides in West Africa

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WHO and partners are working with health officials in Sierra Leone to prevent the spread of infectious disease and provide ongoing health care for injured and displaced people living in vulnerable areas affected by recent mudslides and flooding, according to a press release.

Because of the devastation, approximately 500 people living in and around Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, have died, whereas hundreds are missing and thousands are displaced, according to WHO. Damage to water and sanitation facilities have put residents at risk for potential outbreaks of infectious diseases that have previously plagued the country like malaria, typhoid and cholera, the organization said.

“People in areas of Sierra Leone affected by mudslides and flooding are vulnerable to increases in outbreaks of pre-existing cholera and other waterborne diseases. At this planning stage, it is good to consider all preventive measures including Oral Cholera Vaccination,” Christian Lindmeier, WHO Spokesperson, told Infectious Disease News. “Flooding can damage or cause overflow of sanitation facilities, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases. Many of those who have been displaced would previously have had access to clean water. Flooding creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes and can cause an increase in malaria and other vector-borne diseases.”

In response, WHO has prepared human, technical and financial resources to address the situation in Sierra Leone and is working with health authorities to best prevent disease outbreaks, WHO said. The Organization and partners are working to supply vulnerable areas with emergency kits and cholera response kits that include rapid testing tools.

“WHO is leading the health partners’ response in supporting national authorities to address health related issues for the emergency. It is also providing technical support to the Public Health National Emergency Operations Center in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS),” Lindmeier said. “WHO is supporting the MOHS with cholera preparedness, including procuring cholera reagents and supplies, and updating the cholera response plan.”

Additionally, health and community workers are receiving training to recognize signs of priority diseases, according to the release. At health facilities and Connaught Hospital in Freetown, WHO is also helping in the support of infection prevention and control, community engagement and psychological first aid, the organization said.

“The mudslides have caused extreme suffering and loss of life, and we must do all we can to protect the population from additional health risks,” Alexander Chimbaru, Officer in Charge, WHO Sierra Leone, said in the release. “While the Government and WHO are working hard to strengthen health services in the affected areas, we also urge the population to take the following precautions to help avoid a possible outbreak: hand washing, drinking only water that has been properly boiled or treated, use of latrines for sanitation, and adherence to good food hygiene practices.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: Chimbaru and Lindmeier are employed by WHO.