UNICEF’s Representative for Haiti, Marc Vincent, said eventually he would like to totally eliminate cholera in Haiti.
“That means we need to continue working on the rapid response mechanisms, and we need to ensure that the long-term access to sanitation and water eventually covers all the country,” Vincent told UN News Center. “But the National Sanitation is a development program, and it will take time to change behaviour and to ensure universal access,” he added.
However, Vincent said one of the challenges that UNICEF faces in addressing cholera in Haiti is funding the rapid response mechanisms.
“We need predictable funding,” he said. “Since humanitarian funding is of a short duration, it is so difficult to know from one year to the next how much money you will be able to plan for.
“We are hoping to put the rapid response on a longer-term development footing, and then many of these mechanisms can be used, as I said, to prevent water-borne diseases, as well other contagious diseases,” he added.
“Therefore, one of the challenges we have is mobilizing development funds to keep these mechanisms in place and build up the capacity of the [Haitian] Ministry of Health,” Vincent continued.
His comments came as a United States federal appeals court last week upheld the United Nations’ immunity from a damage claim filed on behalf cholera victims in Haiti.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the immunity of the Organization from legal proceedings in the case of Georges et al v. United Nations et. al, in accordance with the UN Charter and other international treaties.
The class action lawsuit was filed in October 2013 in US Federal Court in New York in connection with the cholera outbreak in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, the UN said
The suit had called on the UN to compensate victims of the epidemic.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he deeply regretted the “terrible suffering” of the Haitian people, and that the UN has a moral responsibility to the support the victims and the country in overcoming the epidemic.
The UN said the cholera outbreak has affected an estimated 780,000 people and claimed the lives of over 9,100 people.
The disease is typically contracted through contaminated food or water.
In terms of progress on cholera in Haiti, Vincent said there is still “a long way to go.”
He said, UNICEF is active in about 120 communities, adding that some 20,000 people in the country benefit now from living in an “open defecation-free environment.”
Regarding the rapid response to cholera, Vincent said the mechanisms are in place in controlling cholera and bringing it down from a peak of 350,000 suspected cases in 2011 to 36,000 last year.
“Also, for example, when you visit three of the 16 priority communities in the country’s southeast and see how proud they are of having their own toilets, building them themselves, how proud people are of protecting their families and children – when you see that pride it gives you hope,” the UNICEF Representative said. “At the personal level, this is the most rewarding experience.”
But he said the long-term response is to improve access to water and sanitation for all Haitians.
To date, 28 per cent of the population has access to proper sanitation facilities, and 58 per cent has access to clean drinking water.
“What we are trying to do is to increase access to clean water, and to change behaviour in terms of open defecation, which is one of the main sources of contamination in the water system,” Vincent said. “What happens is that the cholera Vibrio gets spread through water.
“So, if everyone has a toilet, and we can eliminate open defecation, we will go a long way to reducing cholera transmission in the country,” he added.
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