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Maintaining the Momentum Against Cholera

The world still has a great deal of work to do to eliminate cholera from the Global South, as the ongoing outbreak in Yemen shows. But significant progress is being made, and, in 2018, global health organizations set a new record in the delivery of oral cholera vaccines to many of the world's most vulnerable countries.

SEATTLE – When Cyclone Idai ripped through Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe on the night of March 14, it wrought unimaginable devastation and claimed more than 1,000 lives. In its aftermath, and that of Cyclone Kenneth the following month, flooding and the loss of infrastructure created the conditions for an explosive outbreak of cholera, a deadly diarrheal disease that can kill a person within hours if left untreated.

But what happened next is key: after Idai struck, the authorities launched a rapid-response initiative and within 24 hours arranged for oral cholera vaccines to be delivered to Mozambique. With a large-scale vaccination effort now underway, the outbreak is under control, and thousands of lives have been saved.

In the past, developing countries that have been struck by natural disasters or afflicted by war have not been so fortunate. After a devastating earthquake in 2010, Haiti experienced a protracted cholera outbreak that claimed thousands of lives and jeopardized its recovery. And in war-torn Yemen today, an equally widespread outbreak has yet to be brought under control.

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