Geneva, 31 May 2012 - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has vaccinated 117,000 people against cholera in the region of Boffa, 150 km north of Conakry, the Guinean capital. This is the first time that people in Africa have been protected during a cholera outbreak by a two-dose oral vaccine. This initiative could spur an improved response to cholera epidemics worldwide.
In collaboration with the Guinean Ministry of Health, MSF focused its response on a coastal region near Conakry, which was considered a hotspot of the epidemic. "We were faced with an outbreak and we wanted first to protect people by vaccinating them, and to limit the spread of cholera," said Dr Dominique Legros, MSF’s innovation initiative manager in Geneva.
"MSF is regularly involved in responding to cholera outbreaks and it is always difficult to control the disease," said Dr Legros. "Because cholera evolves quickly, oral vaccination provides us with a new tool to try to contain the disease. If we can control the most active spots, we can reduce the spread of cholera. "
Since the vaccination campaign, MSF and its partner Épicentre have strengthened epidemiological surveillance in the region in order to monitor the evolution of the epidemic and the efficacy of the vaccine over the next six months.
The results of this surveillance will be analysed and used to develop a comprehensive global response strategy for future epidemics, which will enable MSF teams to deploy quickly to vaccinate communities and protect more people.
Oral cholera vaccination represents a promising new tool in the response to outbreaks, but it cannot be used alone. Awareness-raising activities, improved hygiene practices, and treatment are still important components of the cholera response. The provision of safe water and sanitation remain essential during all outbreaks.
"All water-borne diseases can be controlled by investing in water and sanitation measures,” said Dr Legros. “The oral vaccine against cholera is not a panacea for all diarrheal diseases in Africa."
MSF’s work in Guinea has shown that vaccination against cholera during an epidemic is possible. Teams require only basic training, the vaccine is easy to administer, it causes few side effects and it is well accepted by the population.