Oral Cholera Vaccine Could Save Lives
Cholera remains a serious problem in many developing nations, but access to clean water makes a big difference.
Although cholera has been largely eradicated in developed nations due to improvements in water treatment and sanitation, the disease remains a serious problem in many of the world's poorest countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sub-Saharan Africa bears much of the world's burden of cholera due to the prevalence of unimproved sanitation systems and other conditions that contribute to the spread of the waterborne illness. An estimated 3 million to 5 million cases occur each year globally and about 100,000 infected people die.
However, there is new hope in the fight against cholera, an infection of the small intestine that causes nausea and diarrhea. According to the results of a recent clinical trial conducted in India, an oral medication may offer people protection against cholera for up to five years.
The medication, known as shanchol, is manufactured by an Indian pharmaceutical company. Researchers claim that in controlled tests of the drug, shanchol was 65 percent more effective at protecting study participants against cholera than a placebo administered during the trial. The full results of the study are due to be published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal, and the drug could herald a new age in the fight against one of the developing world's greatest killers.
"The participants were given two doses of the vaccine two weeks apart in the period July 2006 to September 2006," says Suman Kanungo, an epidemiologist at India's National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases.
Five years later, those who had taken the vaccine were significantly less likely to contract cholera than those who had not, suggesting that shanchol could be effective in protecting people from the disease.
Although cholera can be easily treated with modern medicines, these drugs are often prohibitively expensive for families living in poverty. The leading cholera treatment drug, Dukoral, costs approximately $5 per dose, whereas shanchol costs just $1.85. In addition, shanchol may be easier for people with sensitivities to oral medications to take, as Dukoral must be administered with a "buffer" draught to prevent the immediate metabolization of the drug due to the potential for reactions with gastric fluids.
The development of this new drug could save countless lives across sub-Saharan Africa and other regions in which cholera remains prevalent. However, there are many preventive measures that can halt the spread of this disease that do not require medical interventions; clean drinking water and improved sanitation go a long way in the fight against cholera. As a waterborne infection, cholera was rampant in the United States and other Western countries during the 19th century, before indoor plumbing and other sanitary practices were common. Today, cholera is much less common in developed countries as a result of sanitation improvements.
ChildFund works in many countries affected by cholera. Lack of improved sanitation systems and clean drinking water are major contributing factors to childhood mortality, particularly in rural areas. Diarrhea causes the death of a child every 20 seconds, and unless action is taken, more lives will be lost.
In countries such as Bolivia, ChildFund has worked to provide families with improved sanitation facilities to halt the spread of infectious disease and save lives. New latrines have been installed in some Bolivian schools, providing children with the means to wash their hands and use restrooms that are cleaner and safer.
India is another country in which poor sanitation contributes to the spread of disease. ChildFund's early childhood development centers offer parents training sessions on hygiene and sanitation, as well as a place where children in need can drink clean water and wash their hands.
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