It’s been a year since the cholera epidemic erupted in earthquake-shattered Haiti and aid agencies are turning to a new weapon in battling the water-borne disease.
Led by the Boston-based Partners in Health, the agencies are looking to begin a vaccination program that they expect will begin to reduce the incidence of cholera and thus make entire vulnerable communities less likely to be overrun by the disease.
The plan calls for vaccinating 100,000 people starting in January. Partners in Health is targeting poor communities in tent camps in quake-devastated Port-au-Prince with little access to safe water and in isolated rural villages near Saint Marc along the Artibonite River, about 60 miles north, where the first cholera cases were reported last Oct. 19.
“What we’re proposing is not a trial,” Paul Farmer, a Catholic who co-founded Partners in Health and is U.N. deputy special envoy for Haiti, told reporters this afternoon during an international teleconference. “The vaccine has been proven safe. It’s yet another effective measure against this epidemic.”
The problem, he said, is getting the campaign funded because the world has moved on to other concerns.
The cost is estimated at about $300,000, but Farmer said he and others with Partners in Health have been on the road trying to raise the necessary funds to carry out the vaccination campaign.
“This is the world’s largest (cholera) epidemic. It shouldn’t require that much effort. We’re trying to raise interest sufficiently,” he said.
“I hope some of the people on this call are shocked to see how little it costs to get this rolling,” he said.
Through Oct. 9, 469,967 cases of the disease have been reported leading to 6,595 deaths, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population. The disease saw an upsurge last week after heavy rains hit parts of the country, Dr. Louise Ivers senior health and policy adviser to PIH, told reporters on the teleconference.
Ivers knows that vaccinating 100,000 people is barely sufficient when entire population of 10 million Haitians are at risk of getting the disease. Each patient must get two doses of the vaccine, which, she said, is 70 percent effective.
Farmer and Ivers also said they want to expand the campaign as more funding becomes available. Other agencies also are joining the effort to administer the vaccine.
What’s also needed is increased access to clean water and sanitation, the two physicians said.
Partners in Health estimates that about 54 percent of all Haitians have access to clean water. There is a push within the Haitian government to begin addressing the lack of clean water with some of the $5.9 billion pledge in March 2010 by the countries of the world meeting at the United Nations to discuss their response to the earthquake.
About 40 percent of the funds have been spent thus far. Farmer wants to see the countries making the pledges to return their focus to Haiti.
“We see ourselves as advocates to push for bigger, larger infrastructure projects that will help solve some of these problems” Farmer said.