Changing behaviours to curb cholera in Nigeria

Published: 1 December 2015 8:29 CET

By: Samuel Matoka and David Fogden, IFRC

In early 2015, 13 of 36 states in Nigeria began to report cases of cholera. By April, 2,108 cases had been detected, with a fatality rate of nearly 5 per cent, far exceeding the accepted rate of one per cent considered normal during such outbreaks.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) released monies from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the Nigerian Red Cross Society in responding to the outbreak. The Red Cross mobilized volunteers to sensitize communities, and to distribute water treatment and storage items to families living in Anambra, Ebonyi and Rivers states, which were among the worst affected.

Ekwembil Edojo, 27, is a Red Cross volunteer from Anambra state. His community of Inoma was one of the hardest hit by the outbreak. Due to a lack of access to latrines, community members practice open defecation, contaminating their only means of drinking water, the Oshimile River, and contributing to the outbreak. “In my community, people didn't understand that open defecation contaminates the water supply,” says Ekwe. When he saw people suffering he wanted to do something to help bring the outbreak to an end and joined the Red Cross. Coming from the community, he was already well accepted by his neighbours, leaving him and other volunteers better placed to help change people’s behaviours.

Ekwe received training on the means of preventing and controlling cholera, which he then shared with members of his community. “I appreciated the training,” says Ekwe. “It enabled me to pass on the correct information to people with confidence. We responded at the right time, and it was effective, as once we started working, the number of cholera cases began to reduce almost immediately. We also taught people who had diarrhoea how to treat it with a simple sugar-salt solution.” The state’s Ministry of Health provided local health clinics with oral rehydration solutions and intravenous therapy, but it was the Red Cross which worked directly in the communities, reaching 31,800 people.

The work, however, was not without its challenges. “Initially some people didn’t believe that they needed to treat the water from the river, but I explained how important it was, and gave them water purification chemicals so they could have access to safe water in their homes,” explains Ekwe. The Nigerian Red Cross Society also distributed buckets and jerry cans to ensure families would store safe water.

Ekwe believes that to stop cholera outbreaks happening in Inoma in the future, there is a need to continue the sensitization of the community to reinforce positive behaviours such as hand washing, boiling and treating water, sinking boreholes, and constructing latrines.

This DREF is supported by National Red Cross Societies in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the USA, as well as DG ECHO, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Medtronic and Zurich Foundations and other corporate and private donors. The IFRC, on behalf of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, would like to extend many thanks to all partners for their generous contributions.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright