Gavi and WHO Launch the Biggest Cholera Vaccination Drive in Human History

Chris Elias
May 9, 2018 · 2 min read
A mother holds her child after a vaccination service in Livingstone, Zambia.

The largest cholera vaccination drive in human history has just gotten underway. Supported by Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), it will reach more than two million people across five countries in Africa and help accelerate progress toward the goal of eliminating cholera as a global health threat by 2030.

On Monday, May 7, partners launched the drive in Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and South Sudan. Gavi fully funded the oral cholera vaccines sourced from the global stockpile, which will be administered and distributed by each country’s ministry of health with support from WHO.

WHO is also conducting a cholera vaccination drive in Yemen, which made headlines last year when an outbreak there became the largest ever recorded. Launched on Sunday, May 6, the Yemen drive will reach 350,000 people in its initial phase with the hope of eventually vaccinating four million people in at-risk areas.

Both drives coincide with regional rainy seasons, which can accelerate cholera transmission. At least 12 sub-Saharan African countries are reporting active cholera outbreaks, and in Yemen, there have been more than one million suspected cholera cases and 2,275 recorded deaths since its outbreak began in November 2016.

As I noted last month, two recent innovations in vaccine technology are making it easier to get cholera vaccines to the people who need them most. Last fall, WHO prequalified Euvichol-Plus, a novel packaging of oral cholera vaccine that is cheaper, smaller and lighter than previous versions. This will help health workers quickly get more vaccines to people in need.

And in February, Shanchol — another oral cholera vaccine — received approval from WHO for use at temperatures as high as 40°C for up to 14 days. That is a significant gain because vaccines that can remain stable at high temperatures eliminate the challenge of keeping vaccines cold in hot environments.

Oral cholera vaccines are a game changer because they work to prevent cholera for up to three years, effectively bridging emergency response efforts and longer-term cholera control measures. With the global stockpile anticipated to increase to 25 million doses this year (compared to just seven million in 2016), these vaccines will play a vital role in achieving the ambitious goals set forth in The Global Taskforce on Cholera Control’s Global Roadmap to End Cholera last October, which include reducing cholera deaths by 90 percent by 2030.

Chris Elias

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President of Global Development at @gatesfoundation. Tweeting about power of partnership to transform #health and #development. Views are my own.