By Colleta Dewa in Johannesburg
Medical practitioners in South Africa have hailed the outcome of a recent study carried out by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Zambian Ministry of Health, the Pasteur Institute and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that has proved the effectiveness of a single dose of oral vaccine in cholera prevention.
Speaking to The Southern Times, Dr Peerters Peerters said the development comes at the right time, as Southern Africa is facing a huge challenge in the fight against cholera.
"I can say the results of this research are a messiah in the medical circles. Southern Africa is in great need of such developments. Our neighbour Zimbabwe is fighting cholera, so is Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. People need to be protected so this single oral vaccine should be made available as soon as yesterday to avoid more infections," he said.
Dr Peerters added that responsible organisations needed to take seriously the outcome of the study and make sure that the single oral vaccine was implemented.
"We really hope that the results of this study are going to be implemented. We can't just have researches that will gather dust in some office file when people's lives are being lost."
Medical guru, Mr Morapedi Thanda, also expressed appreciation to Doctors Without Borders and other organisations that helped carry out the study, saying it showed unwavering commitment to helping people.
"Personally, I want to express gratitude to Doctors Without Borders, the Government of Zambia and other researchers who were part of the study. At the moment, it is more crucial to protect people from the deadly contagious disease. It is better to avoid new infections," he said.
In a statement to The Southern Times, Angela Makamure, communications director for Doctors Without Borders in South Africa, said the recent results came at a time when Africa is in great need to protect its people in the wake of outbreaks in the DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"Oral cholera vaccines are emerging as a new tool for cholera control and have been used in the past years to successfully prevent outbreaks in complex emergencies, to curb cholera epidemics or to reduce burden in countries which are endemic.
“The vaccine is typically recommended to be administered in two doses. However, due to the limited number of vaccines available globally and to curb the Lusaka outbreak as quickly as possible, a single dose delivered to twice as many people will be more efficient to rapidly maximise ‘herd immunity’,” she said.
Doctors Without Borders researcher, Dr Francisco Luquero, said the research was very relevant and welcome at a time when a lot of people needed to be protected, especially in Southern Africa.
“According to these results, people vaccinated can be protected against cholera a few days after receiving one dose. This is important in outbreaks when we need to protect people quickly. We now know that just one dose provides adequate short-term protection both for people with recent exposure to the disease and also for those who have not been exposed to it in several years, such as people in Lusaka and much of sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
“While the availability of vaccines has improved in recent years, the number is still far from being sufficient to tackle the large-scale outbreaks we are currently seeing, such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Yemen. However, we are extremely encouraged by these results which will mean more people can be protected from this potentially deadly disease." Dr Luquero said it was, however, worrisome that the study could not detect the effectiveness of this oral vaccine in children below the age of five.
“It is important that future studies look at the effect of the vaccine on children under five as they are generally less protected and more vulnerable to the disease,” he said.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders representative in the DRC, Jean Liyolongo, said the organisation had intensified its efforts to curb the disease, as it had already reached the country's capital Kinshasa.
“Faced with the spread of this epidemic, as of last week, we have stepped up our intervention by treating patients in the treatments units, and by putting in place 10 rehydration points, epidemiological surveillance activities and education, and an ambulance service.
“Cholera is affecting parts of Kinshasa that are densely populated, so it’s crucial to act quickly to prevent the spread of this epidemic. By providing quick and free treatment for patients, alongside support to healthcare providers, we can ensure proper care for those who are ill,” Liyolongo.
Research has revealed that most people in the DRC have failed to access health care mainly due to stigma.
Some of the provinces affected by cholera in the DRC include Congo Central, Kwilu, Kasaï, Haut Lomami, Maniema, Tanganyika, Sud-Kivu, Nord-Kivu, Ituri and Bas-Uélé. The disease has, however, been detected in almost 24 of the country's 26 provinces. According to Doctors Without Borders, 1,190 died of the disease last year. In Zimbabwe, the disease has hit Chinhoyi, a town in Mashonaland West province, and so far four people have died.
In Zambia, cholera has killed more than 70 people since October last year, most of them in the capital, Lusaka.
Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province recently recorded the first 75 cases of cholera but no fatalities have been reported so far.
Cholera is a waterborne disease, which causes profuse watery diarrhoea and vomiting. If left untreated, it can be fatal. It is most common in densely populated areas where sanitation is poor and water supplies are not safe.