Lebanon launched a cholera vaccine program on Saturday as it struggles to contain the fast-spreading disease.
Starting in the northern parts of Lebanon, where cases have spread rapidly, the Lebanese health ministry said it hopes to give 600,000 doses in the next three weeks.
The waterborne disease was first reported in the country in early October and has now spread around the country with over 3,000 suspected cases, according to the health ministry.
About a quarter of these cases are children under the age of five.
A cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. While most cases are mild to moderate, cholera can cause death if it’s not treated correctly.
The World Health Organization worked with the Lebanese government to secure the doses which arrived a few days ago. The WHO has warned that the disease is spreading rapidly.
The bacterial infection has surged globally across dozens of countries this year, with outbreaks in Haiti and across the Horn of Africa as well as the Mideast.
Recently, WHO announced the temporary suspension of a two-dose vaccination strategy because production couldn’t meet surging demand.
Officials are now administering single doses so that more people can benefit from the vaccine in the short term.
As Lebanon launches its vaccination program, the country struggling with an economic crisis and political crisis throwing 80 percent of the population into poverty. Most Lebanese now rely on water trucked in by private suppliers, which the state does not test for safety.
Utilities can’t buy fuel and pump water into households.
The Vibrio cholerae bacteria has been found in drinking-water, sewer systems, and irrigation water across the country.
Firas Abiad, Lebanon’s caretaker health minister, launched the door-to-door vaccination campaign with local NGOs launching teams around the north and east of the country where cholera numbers are higher.
He said while he hopes the program “bears fruit quickly,” it was also important to focus not the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
Staff of Medair, a Swiss health NGO, walked around the town of Bhanine where they were vaccinating residents.
The area is surrounded by informal settlements for Syrian refugees.
Most cases of cholera have been detected in refugee camps, Lebanon’s Health Ministry says.
“If we didn’t protect ourselves, the vaccine will not suffice at all,” said Mazen Hussein after he received the vaccine.
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