SEATTLE — Nearly six years after cholera became endemic in Haiti, the World Health Organization hopes a new vaccine program can rid the country of the bacterial disease.
The WHO, along with the Haitian government, aims to vaccinate at least 868,000 people over the next year and a half. The vaccine will join other cholera-prevention efforts that involve providing access to chlorinated water, improving sanitation and boosting Haiti’s health system, which has struggled to provide adequate medical care.
According to the report by the United Nations News Center, the vaccine, which has an efficacy of 65 percent, has been administered to 118,000 people and been received well by the local population. Haiti’s government hopes that another 750,000 people will receive the vaccine by the end of 2017.
Although the vaccine was developed five years ago, it was previously not available for wide-scale use.
The WHO Representative for Haiti, Jean-Luc Poncelet, has stressed the importance of the vaccine recipients’ access to chlorinated water. In an interview with the UN News Service, Poncelet said the vaccine will not eliminate cholera—which spreads through water contaminated by human waste—as long as people continue to drink polluted water.
According to the New York Times, cholera was reintroduced in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, which killed over 100,000 Haitians and ravaged the country’s capital in Port-au-Prince. Since then, the disease, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, has killed roughly 10,000 people.
Although the number of suspected cases of cholera has declined by 90 percent since 2011, the disease has already sickened more than 7,800 people and killed nearly 100 this year.
In addition to the vaccination initiative, several other programs have been launched to reduce to tackle Haiti’s cholera epidemic.
As part of a rapid response mechanism, teams of physicians and water and sanitation experts are dispatched to each reported case of cholera. The teams help treat people who have symptoms of cholera and sanitize affected households.
The United Nations Children’s International Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has also helped provide Haitians with access to clean water and has persuaded people to avoid open defecation, which has been a primary source of contaminated drinking water.
The launch of the vaccine program comes as the Haitian government struggles to manage Haiti’s public medical system.
Although Haiti subsidizes health care, the country’s public hospitals lack the equipment and personnel necessary to effectively treat patients. New hospitals have been constructed since the earthquake, but the government cannot afford to pay medical centers’ daily upkeep and operation costs, according to a report by the Miami Herald.
Haiti’s health crisis has been exacerbated as a recent strike by doctors over poor working conditions has caused more than a dozen government-run hospitals to close down. Other medical centers run by NGOs and universities have become overwhelmed by the resulting increase in demand.
According to the UNICEF’s Representative for Haiti, Marc Vincent, additional funding and investment in Haiti’s health system will be key for Haiti’s medical care to improve and the vaccination and other cholera-prevention programs to succeed.
– Sam Turken