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Gains in Haiti cholera fight show more resources can ensure ‘cholera will go’: Senior UN official

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A senior United Nations official has stressed that recent successes in the fight against cholera in Haiti demonstrate that when the U.N. and Haitian authorities receive the necessary funds, real progress can be made, and that, eventually, “cholera will go.”

Dr. David Nabarro, a U.N. Special Advisor, on Wednesday underscored the recent, massive vaccination campaign, backed by the Pan American Health Organization that reached 729,000 vulnerable Haitians and the increase in “rapid response” teams, “which has had a positive impact in stopping outbreaks of the disease in its tracks.”

“I want enough cash in the bank so that we can be sure of being able to have this response capacity right through into 2018,” he said. “Then, we can really get this outbreak right down, numbers really small; and then, if we combine it [efforts to improve] water supplies and sanitation for every Haitian, cholera will go.”

Nabarro noted that, in August of this year, it became clear that the number of people with cholera in Haiti was actually larger than it had been last year.

Because of shortages of funding, the number of teams that could respond rapidly when individuals were reported to have cholera-type symptoms had really dropped from about 70 to around 30, he said.

“With a situation like that, where you can’t respond quickly to a person who is sick, you get more people in the vicinity of the sick person also being ill with diarrheal disease and probably with cholera,” he said.

The U.N. said it borrowed resources internally to increase the number of rapid response teams.

As a result, it said the number increased from 32 in April to 88 today, adding that the majority of people, who were reported as being sick with watery diarrhea and suspected cholera can now get treated within 48 hours of their illness being reported.

When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in early October, the U.N. said it “became extremely concerned that there would be an upsurge in the number of people sick with cholera because the storm damaged sanitary facilities and sewage leaked into the places from which people obtained their drinking water.

“This prompted the urgent delivery to Haiti of 1 million doses of the cholera vaccine, and the massive and efficiently executed vaccination campaign of vulnerable communities in the storm affected areas,” the U.N. said.

Although the vaccine is not a 100 percent effective, the U.N. said it can have a dramatic impact on cholera if combined with other interventions, such as chlorination of water supplies and intensive education.

Nabarro said the UN is looking to vaccinate everyone in the French-speaking Caribbean country, ideally with two doses.

He said the number of people with cholera is below the levels recorded during this period last year and the year before.

“The way that’s done is through having finance,” Nabarro said. “You can’t run an effective cholera response without dependable cash.

“You can then provide the five different inputs necessary for controlling an outbreak: rapid response, effective treatment, vaccination, chlorination of water supplies, and really strong public education and involvement,” he added.

The Special Adviser’s call for scaled-up funding comes just days after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologized to the people of Haiti, expressing deep regret for the loss of life and suffering caused by the country’s cholera epidemic.

The U.N. said Haiti has been dealing with a cholera outbreak since October 2010, some nine months after it suffered a devastating earthquake.

The outbreak has affected an estimated 788,000 people and claimed the lives of more than 9,000, the U.N. said.

It said concerted national and international efforts, backed by the United Nations, have resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the number of suspected cases.

While the number of those affected remains high, and recent outbreaks – partly heightened by the impact of Hurricane Matthew – show the continued vulnerability of the population to the disease, UN officials have said the challenge is not insurmountable.

Updated 10:13 am, December 15, 2016
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