Haiti Opens a Drive to Vaccinate 820,000 as Cholera Flares

By REUTERS NOV. 9, 2016

LES CAYES, Haiti — Haiti has begun a large-scale vaccination campaign to battle a cholera flare-up after Hurricane Matthew, but concerns remain about the country’s capacity for longer-term improvements to both water and sanitation infrastructure that are needed to help eradicate the disease.

The vaccination campaign, which began this week in two southern areas hit hard by last month’s storm,is aimed at 820,000 people, said Jackson Ernsly, an immunization specialist for Unicef Haiti.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti has sickened more than 800,000 people and killed about 9,000 since 2010, when the bacteria was brought into the country by a group of United Nations peacekeepers.

Although the disease had proved hard to eradicate, the number of cases had declined sharply since its peak in 2010 and 2011.

But Hurricane Matthew killed up to 1,000 people, left about 1.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance and damaged many health facilities. The storm largely destroyed much of the southwestern region’s already meager water and sanitation infrastructure, leaving it ripe for a new cholera outbreak, experts have said.

An official with Haiti’s Ministry of Health, Clifford Gauthier, said there had been 1,200 suspected cases of cholera in the country’s southern region since the hurricane hit, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that, across the country, there have been 3,500 suspected cases of cholera since the hurricane.

The vaccination campaign will be the first time that such a large number of people will be given only one dose of the cholera vaccine. Normally, the vaccine is administered in two doses.

An earlier initiative conducted by Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan found that a single dose of the cholera vaccine proved to be effective at boosting immunity, according to a study published in medical journal The Lancet in November.

“This justifies the approach of using a single dose to achieve wider coverage, given the fact that there’s not enough of the vaccine to give to everyone,” said Alan Hinman, who is a member of the Global Task Force on Cholera Control, but was not involved with the study.

Despite the officials’ enthusiasm, some residents were angry that help had taken so long to arrive.

“Many people died in the South department because of cholera, especially people who do not have access to a health center in their community,” said Laurient Seebien, a resident of Les Cayes. “Maybe if the government had come quickly with those drugs, it would have saved more lives.”

Haitian officials were careful to emphasize that the vaccine was not intended to be the only tool to fight cholera in the region.

“The eradication of cholera must include the strengthening of sanitary infrastructures, and the population must have access to safe water,” said Daphnée Benoît Delsoin, the minister of health. “That is to say, it is a very long struggle.”


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