ETHIOPIA – Ethiopia has officially launched a preventive oral cholera vaccination campaign targeting 2 million people aged 1 year and above in Tigray region in the north of the country to avert a potential outbreak.

“The oral cholera vaccine is one of the proven preventive measures that can help avert needless sickness and death if done in a timely manner,” said Dr. Boureima Hama Sambo, WHO Representative in Ethiopia.

The vaccination drive, which began on 10 June is being carried out alongside measures such as the provision of water purification tablets and handwashing soaps to improve water, sanitation and hygiene.

The Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) and the Tigray Regional Health Bureau are leading the campaign, with logistical support from the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Agency, and technical and operational support from World Health Organization (WHO) and partner organizations.

In addition to WHO’s role in the procurement and deployment of the vaccine doses to contain Cholera, WHO teams have been working with national teams providing technical, operational and logistical support.

Vaccinators trained by the Regional Health Bureau, EPHI and WHO are going through communities and camps for internally displaced persons administering the vaccine in the first-round of the campaign in Tigray, one of Ethiopia’s regions prone to seasonal cholera outbreaks.

Following a conflict that erupted in Tigray at the end of 2020, more than 2 million people have been displaced, with over 1.7 million of them within the region.

The crowded living conditions in camps for internally displaced persons, inadequate sanitation, scarcity of clean water and the upcoming rainy season put both the displaced and the host communities at risk of a cholera outbreak.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of intestine with Vibrio cholerae, of usually serogroup O1. It is primarily waterborne illness, but it can also be transmitted via contaminated food and, rarely, between infected persons.

The World Health Organization estimates that only 5–10% of the cholera cases occurring annually are officially reported by Member countries.

According to a case control study conducted in Ethiopia, 1.3 billion people are at risk for cholera in endemic countries worldwide, with an estimated 2.86 million cases and 95,000 deaths of cholera occurring annually, with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 60% of the estimated cases.

The study also estimated in Ethiopia that nearly 70 million people are at risk of cholera with an estimated 275,221 cases and 10, 458 deaths occurring annually, representing incidence rate of 4 cases per 1000 populations.

Disease surveillance, improved water, sanitation and hygiene services as well as treatment and vaccines are crucial in preventing cholera and containing infection spread.