PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, CMC – The Haitian government has agreed to support a massive vaccination programme to slow a cholera outbreak that has claimed more than 6,000 lives and afflicted almost a half-million people.
President Michel Martelly, who was elected in March, and Prime Minister Garry Conille have voiced support for the new vaccination campaign.
“President Martelly is definitely behind the vaccine and so encouraged his ministry of health,’’ said Dr. Louise Ivers, senior policy adviser for Boston, Massachusetts-based Partners In Health, which will provide the vaccinations to vulnerable Haitian communities.
Ivers said, beginning in January, Partners in Health will provide two dosages of the oral vaccine Shanchol to 100,000 Haitians living in two vulnerable communities: a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, where potable water and latrines are luxuries, and to an isolated rural village in the lower Artibonite Valley region.
The disease outbreak was first detected in the region a year ago this month.
“We need to bring every resource available to stop the epidemic,” Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard University professor who co-founded Partners In Health and serves as deputy UN Special Envoy for Haiti, told reporters here.
On the eve of last year’s presidential election, former President René Préval declined to launch a similar vaccination programme, fearing social unrest. Government health officials said the programme was not adopted because there were not enough vaccines for everyone.
But Ivers said continued deaths and advocacy from health groups helped shape the new policy.
She said Partners In Health is launching the programme with Haiti’s health ministry and the GHESKIO Center, a respected Haitian aid group known for its groundbreaking work with HIV/AIDS patients in Haiti.
Partners In Health, which spends about US$500,000 a month to treat cholera patients, says Haiti’s epidemic is the world’s largest.
Conille, a medical doctor, said tackling cholera is among his top priorities, stating that he wants to launch an army of young Haitians — one for every 200 households — to educate communities about prevention and treatment of waterborne disease.
“I see this, despite the fact that it has had a devastating effect, as an opportunity for us to quickly strengthen our system and address other big public health issues,” he said.
Bill Pape, director of the GHESKIO Center, said the best solution to solving cholera in Haiti is improving water and sanitation in the country, which has some of the worst conditions in the world.
He said the benefits of the vaccine, which provides 70 per cent effectiveness, last for about two years, adding that the impact on the community is “enormous.”
By vaccinating about 50 per cent of a population, the immunity could spread to the entire community, experts say.
“I don’t see why you don’t provide it. It’s like going to war, using the artillery and not the aviation,” Pape said. “We need to give everything that is available. The disease is going to be here for a long time.”