January 14, 2004

Mass cholera vaccination campaign launched by UN

A mass cholera vaccination campaign is being conducted in the town of Beira, a community with particularly high levels of cholera, by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the country's Ministry of Health, the non-governmental Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), Epicentre and the International Vaccine Institute. While current campaigns, which focus on providing care to the sick and providing safe water, can prevent many deaths, the lack of strong preventative measures means the disease is still a major public health problem in some 50 resource-poor countries, the Geneva-based WHO said. The Beira campaign will finish by the end of the month with about 50.000 people vaccinated, and the first results of this effort will be obtained within a year, WHO said.

The vaccine itself has been available for 10 years, but the agency said this was the first time it had been used so broadly to minimize the devastation of a cholera outbreak. It is also the first time that WHO has considered the use of the oral cholera vaccine as part of an overall strategy. In recent years, the number of reported cholera cases worldwide has varied between 110.000 and 200.000 cases annually. Officially 5.000 deaths occur each year, but WHO estimates that the true number is probably significantly higher, due to under-reporting of cases and gaps in surveillance. (UN, New York)

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