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The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has embarked on the biggest oral vaccination against cholera in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to information in the WHO’s official website, the exercise, which commenced on July 3, will end on Monday, and is scheduled to cover four provinces of the country.

“It is phase two of the biggest ever oral vaccination campaign against cholera, and is scheduled to take place in 15 health districts in the four central provinces of the DRC from July 3 to July 8.

“The second dose of vaccine confers lasting immunity against cholera, and is being targeted at 1,235,972 people over one year of age.

“The five-day, door-to-door campaign will involve 2,632 vaccinators recruited mainly from local communities, whose job it will be to administer the oral cholera vaccine.

“They will also fill in vaccination cards and tally sheets, and compile a daily summary of the teams’ progress,’’ the organisation stated.

It said that mobilisers have also been engaged to alert the people of the presence of vaccinators in their communities.

“In parallel, 583 community mobilisers have been selected; one mobiliser for every three teams in urban areas and one mobiliser for every two teams in rural districts,’’ it said.

According to the organisation: “Their (mobilisers) job is to alert local people that vaccinators will visit their homes.

“They will use loudspeakers to spread the message, particularly in the early evening.’’

Newsmen report that the campaign was organised by the DRC’s Ministry of Health with support from WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Task Force on Cholera Control (GTFCC).

It is the second such campaign in the central region of the DRC.

In 2018, 1,224,331 people over one-year of age were vaccinated during the first round.

The purpose is to contain the epidemic which resulted in 9,154 presumed cases and 458 deaths (case-fatality rate of 5%) in the five affected provinces in Kasaï region between January and December 2018.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said: “This cholera vaccination campaign marks the intensification of our response in the DRC.

“WHO and our partners are working with national authorities to rollout the vaccine, which comes in addition to multiple interventions introduced since the beginning of the cholera epidemic, including sanitation and water quality control in the affected areas, many of which have little access to a safe water supply.

“Right now, with the second dose, the preventive campaign for which 1,235,972 doses of oral vaccine have been laid in will ensure coverage of all at-risk areas in this central region of the DRC.

“The vaccines have been provided from global cholera vaccine stocks managed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.’’

Dr Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer of Gavi, assured that the vaccines would go a long way to bring cholera outbreaks under control.

“This vaccination campaign will play a key role in bringing this cholera outbreak under control.

“The DRC is currently going through an unprecedented combination of deadly epidemics, with Ebola and measles outbreaks also causing untold misery across the country.

“It is vital that the global effort to control these outbreaks continues to receive support, we cannot allow this needless suffering to continue,” he said.

WHO stated that in 2018, the DRC reported a cumulative total of 29,304 suspected cholera cases and more than 930 deaths.

“So far, in 2019 and up to epidemiological week 23 (June3 to June 9), at least 12,247 suspected cases of cholera and 279 deaths (case-fatality rate 2.2%) have already been reported in 137 health districts in 20 of the 26 provinces of the DRC.

“Cholera is a highly contagious communicable disease transmitted via contaminated water or food. It causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration which must be treated immediately to avoid death.’’

Dr Deo Nshimirimana, Acting WHO Representative in the DRC, said that the vaccination campaign would prevent cholera from having foothold in the targeted areas.

He urged citizens to combine the vaccination with hygiene and other preventive measures to fight cholera more effectively.

“This cholera vaccination campaign in the four central provinces of the DRC is crucial to stop the disease from gaining a permanent foothold in the target areas of Kasaï, Lomami and Sankuru.

“The vaccinators will visit every household, even in the remotest areas to administer the second dose vital for ensuring long-term protection against cholera.

“We must not forget that oral cholera vaccine works in conjunction with other effective prevention measures such as improvement of sanitary conditions.

“Individual and collective hygiene, including regular hand-washing after going to the bathroom or before meals is also important.

“And we should lobby authorities to improve access to drinking water,” he advised.

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