The UK government has a £2 million emergency action plan to help tackle a cholera epidemic sweeping through Sierra Leone.
So far around 200 people have died and more than 12,000 have been infected by the water-borne disease, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and can kill within hours if left untreated.
The Department for International Development (DfID) is using a network that includes private businesses and specialist aid organisations to deliver emergency medical, water and sanitation assistance to affected people in the west African state.
Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Concern, Care International and the British Red Cross have been mobilised as part of the emergency response.
Anti-cholera drugs and water purification kits will also be shipped to Sierra Leone
DfID Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: ‘The cholera epidemic in Sierra Leone is fast becoming a crisis, with millions potentially at risk.
‘The UK is – for the first time – activating the Rapid Response Facility, its network of private sector and aid experts to make sure we get aid to where it is needed, fast.
‘Not only will our response be rapid, it will be efficient.
‘We will monitor closely to make sure every penny of British aid achieves results and supports those in dire need.
‘Urgent action is required to halt the spread of disease and save lives – Britain is leading the way.’
The department’s private sector partners will supply the majority of the aid organisations’ relief supplies and logistics in the coming days.
Cholera has spread quickly across West Africa, getting significantly worse in the last few weeks, with almost half those infected in Sierra Leone – the worst epidemic in the country for two decades.
The outbreak has been most severe in the capital, Freetown, which has a dangerous mix of poor sanitation, high population density and limited health services.
Hundreds more children could die during the cholera outbreak unless it is brought under control quickly, a charity warned today.
Save the Children said aid agencies face a race against time to get preventative measures in place before the crisis reaches its expected peak in three weeks’ time.
Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s country director for Sierra Leone, said: ‘If we can’t get this outbreak under control quickly and comprehensively, it has the potential to kill many more children.
‘Children die very quickly from cholera if they don’t receive immediate medical help.
‘The sheer volume of people who are contracting the disease means that aid agencies need more funding now to respond more efficiently to this devastating.’