It’s been fifteen months since cholera was detected in Haiti. Today it is the largest cholera epidemic in the world.
More than 7,000 people have died from cholera, and over 500,000 Haitians – roughly 5% of the country’s total population – have been diagnosed with the disease. Although cholera is preventable and treatable, resources for controlling it have not kept pace with the expansion of the epidemic.
From January 23-25, dozens of members of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) – a collaboration of human rights and social justice organizations working with U.S. Congressional allies – are meeting to assess reconstruction efforts in post-earthquake Haiti.
As part of these conversations, a panel of cholera and health policy experts – including PIH’s Director of Policy and Advocacy Donna Barry and Director of Community Health in Haiti Dr. Ralph Ternier – met in the U.S. House of Representatives Rayburn Office Building to discuss strategies for refocusing aid as thousands of Haitians continue to contract the disease.
The HAWG cholera panel was sponsored by U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee, Yvette Clarke, Donald Payne, Frederica Wilson, and Maxine Waters. Introductory remarks were given by Ambassador Eric Goosby, United States Global AIDS Coordinator. Panelists included: Dr. Jon Andrus, Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization; Dr. Jordan Tappero, Director, Health Systems Reconstruction Office, Center for Global Health; and, Dr. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director for the Center for Economic Policy Research.
PIH’s representatives came with a clear message. Efforts to combat cholera should be redoubled with a focus on working with the Government of Haiti and local partners to:
- Strengthen water and sanitation infrastructure: The international cholera response must prioritize major investments in Haitian-developed plans for improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
- Identify and treat all those with cholera symptoms: Resources are needed to train and retain public health workers and equip them with the supplies necessary for aggressive case finding and treatment.
- Roll out a safe, affordable, and effective cholera vaccine: Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health in Haiti, PIH and GHESKIO are rolling out a cholera vaccination campaign as part of a comprehensive approach to slowing cholera in Haiti.
- Strengthen Haiti’s public health system: Rather than creating private, parallel systems that drain resources from the public sector, NGOs should work with the Government of Haiti to make comprehensive medical care affordable and accessible for all Haitians.
- Improve effectiveness of foreign assistance to Haiti: Foreign assistance, if rooted in human rights and aid effectiveness principles, can save lives and strengthen local government approaches to breaking the cycle of disease and poverty.