Remember Haiti? Now UN Says That Cholera Eradication Will Take ‘Some Years’


Human Wrongs Watch

30 June 2015 – While some 16,000 new cases of cholera have been reported in Haiti so far this year, the disease is now under control but it will not be eradicated unless improving water and sanitation conditions are given a higher priority by both the Government and donors, says the outgoing United Nations official tasked with leading the response to the outbreak.

A water filtration systems programme in Haiti being demonstrated to community leaders (April 2014). UN Photo/Logan Abassi

“And in today’s world, in the 21st century, it’s not acceptable to have this huge number of cases of cholera,” Pedro Medrano Rojas said in an interview with the UN News Service, as he wrapped up his assignment as UN Senior Coordinator for the Response to Cholera in Haiti.*

Any country with this number of new cases of cholera would declare it an “emergency,” added Medrano, who served in the post for two years.

“This is what we are trying to convey to donors and to the international community” so that they will contribute more towards the eradication of the largest epidemic in the Western Hemisphere.

Currently, only about 20 per cent of the $2.2 billion needed for the 10-year national plan to eliminate cholera is available.

Medrano, who has been responsible for strengthening overall coordination among UN entities and mobilizing a coherent and effective response by the international community, recalled that in the 1990s there had been an outbreak of cholera in the Latin American region that started in Peru. It had taken almost 10 years to eliminate cholera at that time.

Comparing the water and sanitation infrastructure in the 20 countries in the region that were affected back then, where over 80 per cent of people had access to water and adequate sanitation, Medrano noted that “Haiti has a third of that.”

“So we need to do a robust investment in water, sanitation and health, and this takes time,” he said.

This woman was born in Haiti, but her eight children were born in the Dominican Republic. Tens of thousands of people of Haitian descent born in the DR have had their Dominican citizenship revoked, rendering them stateless and facing deportation. Photo: UNHCR/B. Sokol

This woman was born in Haiti, but her eight children were born in the Dominican Republic. Tens of thousands of people of Haitian descent born in the DR have had their Dominican citizenship revoked, rendering them stateless and facing deportation. Photo: UNHCR/B. Sokol

“So we have to be able to treat the cases, the emergency response, and we can control it and save lives. But what is really important is to have the infrastructure – in water and sanitation in particular – which has not been the priority of the international community for many decades.”

About the current situation, Medrano said that when compared with 2010, the peak of the epidemic, there has been a 90 per cent reduction in the number of cases and to date, “we have the lowest number of new cases.”

“So I think that we can say we have been able to control it, not eradicate it,” he said.

As for vaccination rates, the target this year is 300,000 people, compared to 200,000 people last year and 100,000 in 2013.

“Vaccinations are not the solution but it can help to prevent further cases of cholera, but more importantly, it will save lives,” he said. “It is a complementary intervention. The medium- and long-term interventions are more related with infrastructure in health, water and sanitation.”

However, Medrano’s outgoing message was a positive one.

“I am confident that this cholera epidemic will be eliminated,” he said. “This is something, as I said before, [that] can be eliminated, with the support of everybody, in particular the international community and Latin American countries. They could do more. And this would be my appeal to them.” (*Source: UN).

‘Cholera Outbreak Needs ‘Urgent Attention’

Pedro Medrano Rojas holds a child during a July 2014 visit to the community of Las Palmas, Haiti. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

On 14 May 2015, Medrano said that the cholera outbreak in Haiti remains the largest in recent world history, yet the health crisis has fallen off the international agenda after having ceased appearing in the media.

“When cooperation funds dry up, the response teams on the ground no longer have resources to adequately respond to alerts, treat patients and prevent further deaths,” wrote Pedro Medrano Rojas, the Senior Coordinator for the Cholera Response in Haiti, in an opinion piece published in Wiener Zeitung.**

Medrano said the epidemic has caused 9,000 deaths and affected more than 735,000 people since October 2010 when the outbreak began in the aftermath of the earthquake.

“Engraved in our memories are dreadful images of dilapidated buildings and people trying to survive in the midst of the disaster,” he said. “And we can also remember the outstanding international mobilization, committed both to reconstructing the country and fighting the cholera epidemic that emerged months later.”

He said it was understandable that television cameras were now in Nepal, where an earthquake similar to the one in Haiti had occurred.

“But we cannot forget cholera,” he said. “The cholera epidemic in Haiti is still a humanitarian emergency that requires urgent attention. How would we react if any other country forecasted 28,000 cases of cholera for 2015?”

That World Health Organization (WHO) forecast could be even worse if efforts were not made to correct the course and Medrano said the latest UN cholera fact sheet revealed that the situation is going through its worst moment in the last three years.

Heavy rains in September 2014 combined with the lack of resources for an appropriate response reversed previous declines, he said, adding that since then Cholera cases “skyrocketed” from approximately a thousand per month to nearly a thousand per week, with 113 people dying between January and March.

Approximately 200,000 Haitian migrants live in bateyes – communities located on or near to sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic. Photo: UNHCR/Jason Tanner

Approximately 200,000 Haitian migrants live in bateyes – communities located on or near to sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic. Photo: UNHCR/Jason Tanner

“Despite the alarming situation and the worrying estimates for 2015, the cholera epidemic has fallen off the radar of most donors,” Medrano said. “The lack of resources has already led to the closure of 91 of the 250 treatment centres in the country and has caused the departure of many international partners from the country.”

He said the humanitarian community needed $36 million to secure the response capacity and he stressed that the disease was “easily treatable” through antibiotics and hydration.

“No one should die from cholera in the twenty-first century,” Medrano continued. “But Haiti is at a disadvantage, as the poorest country in Latin America and one of the poorest in the entire world. Its health system is very limited and its national sanitation system barely covers one in every four people.”

He pointed to the many positive results in Haiti stemming from international cooperation, including a huge drop in the number of displaced persons, an 88 per cent increase in primary school attendance and the reaching of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on underweight children in 2012.

“Cholera in Haiti can be eliminated,” he said. “We have the strategies, roadmaps and coordination mechanisms with the Government in place to do so. What we need now is a stronger commitment of the international cooperation. Stopping our support now will risk losing everything.” (**Source: UN).

Read also:

Remember Haiti?

Remember Haiti? Now 1,5 Million People at Risk of Food Insecurity in 2013


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