‘Haiti cannot wait 40 years’ to eliminate cholera, warns UN envoy as response lags

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has partnered with Haitian Agencies to combat cholera by providing clean water. UN Photo/Logan Abassi

13 November 2014 – The top United Nations coordinator for cholera response in Haiti says support for initiatives to combat the disease has been “disappointing,” noting that while it may be possible to eliminate cholera in about a decade, at the current rate of funding, it would take more than 40 years to do the job.

“We are standing at a tipping point, and the European Union – the world’s largest single donor of development aid – could be a leading actor on this: Haiti cannot wait two generations until reaching the same levels of coverage as the rest of the region,” wrote Pedro Medrano Rojas, Senior UN Coordinator for the Cholera Response in Haiti, in the Greek newspaper To Vima.

According to Mr. Medrano, the cholera outbreak in Haiti that started in October 2010 has produced more than 707,000 suspected cases and over 8,600 deaths to date, and “will continue until health, water and sanitation systems are addressed.”

“Like Ebola, cholera feeds on weak public health systems, and requires a sustained response,” he wrote.

UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon and Haitian Prime Minister Lamothe launched a national sanitation campaign in July and, with the World Bank, announced in October a three-year initiative as the next stage of the 10-Year National Plan for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti.

But to date, Medrano wrote, “support for Haitian initiatives against cholera and other waterborne diseases has been disappointing.”

“At the current rate of disbursement, it would take more than 40 years to get the funds needed for Haitians to gain the same access as its regional neighbours” to basic health, water and sanitations systems,” he said.

“With a clear roadmap of what needs to be done,” he went on to say, “the international community has now the opportunity to extend its solidarity with Haiti.”

He also noted that “another key preventive measure, complementing the response and systems-building, can be oral cholera vaccines,” but “as of now, there is zero funding available” for the Haitian government’s $3 million initiative to vaccinate 300,000 people next year.

“The donor community has to do better,” he wrote.

According to Mr. Medrano, “given adequate resources and sustained interventions, coupled with improvements in long-term water, sanitation and health infrastructure, it may be possible to eliminate cholera in Haiti over the next decade.”

He warned, “However, if the response falters and resources are not forthcoming, hard-won gains may be compromised and cholera could persist in localized areas.”

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