Haiti prepares to roll out first cholera vaccines
Initial shipment of more than 1.1 million cholera jabs to be distributed in areas with most reported cases, PAHO says.
The Haitian government is expected to launch a cholera vaccination campaign this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) and local officials have said after the Caribbean nation received its first shipment of jabs.
Haiti has been struggling to contain an outbreak of the disease amid a recent surge in gang violence that led to fuel and electricity shortages, including at hospitals and other health facilities in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
The country received an initial shipment of approximately 1.17 million cholera vaccines on Monday, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional WHO branch, said in a statement.
Authorities will focus early vaccination efforts on people over the age of one living in areas that have reported the most cholera cases to date, it said. That includes the Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods of Cite Soleil and Delmas, among other places.
“The arrival of oral vaccines in Haiti is a step in the right direction,” the director of Haiti’s Public Health and Population Ministry, Laure Adrien, said in the statement. “We hope this first shipment will be followed by others so that the vaccine is available to all populations at risk in Haiti.”
Haiti has appealed for help to combat the outbreak of cholera, which began in early October and has most severely affected people that are already vulnerable.
United Nations officials have said that children account for about 40 percent of cases, and nine out of 10 cases have occurred in areas of the country also struggling with high levels of malnutrition and poverty.
Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF’s office of emergency programmes, said last month that Haitian children faced a “triple threat” of violence, malnutrition, and cholera.
Cholera is an illness caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated with cholera bacteria. It can trigger severe diarrhoea as well as vomiting, thirst and other symptoms, and can spread rapidly in areas without adequate sewage treatment and clean drinking water.
The Haitian ministry of public health reported 283 cholera deaths and 13,672 cases between October 2 and December 6, a fatality rate of more than two percent, although the true number is believed to be higher since not all cases are reported.
But the government’s efforts to contain the current outbreak have been complicated by increased gang violence and instability, which skyrocketed in the aftermath of former President Jovenel Moise’s assassination in Port-au-Prince last year.
“Haiti has experience in managing cholera, but the fragile security situation has slowed down response efforts,” PAHO Director Carissa F Etienne said in Monday’s statement.
The agency also said another 500,000 vaccine doses will arrive in Haiti in the coming weeks.
The WHO has recommended the use of the oral vaccine in combination with other measures — such as access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies — to stem the spread of the disease.
Haiti had last reported a cholera case more than three years ago, after a 2010 outbreak linked to UN peacekeepers caused approximately 10,000 deaths and more than 820,000 infections.
That outbreak was linked to a sewage leak from a UN peacekeeping base, spurring condemnation and sowing public distrust in the international body across Haiti. The UN apologised in 2016 for its role in the epidemic.