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UN wants rapid response mechanism to tackle cholera in Haiti

The deputy head of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Mourad Wahba The deputy head of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Mourad Wahba
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9, CMC – The deputy head of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), says a rapid response mechanism is “crucial” to tackling an endemic disease such as cholera and eliminating it in the French-speaking Caribbean country.

Mourad Wahba, however, emphasized that the effectiveness of such efforts requires predictable financing.

“If we cannot have it (funding) in a predictable nature over the next five years, I believe that we are not having the best rapid response,” he said.

Since the outbreak of cholera in Haiti in 2010, the UN said it has worked to contain the disease by focusing on emergency response to save lives, vaccinating the population and implementing preventive measures.

Cholera deaths, which over the past six years totalled about 9,000, have decreased to 168 fatalities this year, the UN said.

The Egyptian-born Wahba underscored the significance of the rapid mobile response teams that travel to communes as soon as there is a suspected case of cholera, working on chlorination in the affected household, as well as in surrounding households.

“I think it’s very important in looking at the response to an endemic disease such as cholera to look at two aspects of the response; what I would call the ‘sword and the shield,’” the Deputy Special Representative said.

“The sword aims at eliminating cholera outbreaks in the communes where they do take place,” he said, adding that the rapid response teams also support cholera treatment centers with supplies such as oral rehydration salts and other therapies, as well as help people recover in order to reduce the lethality of the epidemic.

“The shield aspect of the response is more medium-term, but just as important, because what it does is it aims to prevent the development of an environment which is favourable to Vibrio (bacteria),” Wahba said. “This shield part aims at looking at sanitation, reduced open air defecation, access to potable water for the whole commune, the protection of water sources, so that gradually there is [no longer an] environment in which the cholera Vibrio can actually develop.

“Because cholera is, to a large extent, a disease of poverty, it remains a problem while there is poverty in Haiti,” he added.

Wahba said another aspect of a comprehensive response to eliminate the disease is a vaccination campaign.

Under this component, the UN noted that the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population is being supported by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), as well as by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Since the declaration of the cholera epidemic in late 2010 and its spread in early 2011, the UN said the number of suspected cases has been reduced by 90 per cent from 2011 to last year.

In 2011, the UN said there were a total of360, 000 suspected cases, while in 2015, there were just over 35,000.

In addition, the UN said the number of deaths also has been reduced to 308 deaths last years.

“I think 308 deaths is 308 too many, but itis very much progress compared to where we were just five years ago,” Wahba said.

While funding for the rapid response mechanism has been available up until now, for the response to an epidemic such as cholera to “really take hold,” predictable financing is needed, Wahba said.

“Up to now we have had sufficient funds, but the funds are running out, specifically for the rapid response, where the frequency of the response has decreased in the past month or two because of inadequate financing,” he stressed, adding that the UN’s funding of some US$59million since the start of the epidemic in Haiti explains the rapid progress seen in the elimination of the disease.

Moreover, he said the UN has also supported the Haitian government of Haiti in mobilizing about US$300 million for water and sanitation; but, for that to continue, predictable funding is required for the next five years.

The UN said it also continues to support a vaccination campaign for 2016 and 2017 that is targeting more than 850,000people.

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