Press Conference Held on Treating Haiti's Cholera Epidemic

Dr. Paul Farmer, Dr. Louise Ivers and Ms. Donna Barry Call for Integrated Approach to Slow Haiti’s Year-Long Cholera Epidemic, Including Introduction of Cholera Vaccine

For Immediate Release
October 19, 2011

Media Contact: Kria Sakakeeny, 617-998-6541 (

BOSTON – Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners In Health (PIH) and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Louise Ivers, Senior Health and Policy Advisor to PIH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Associate Physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Donna Barry, NP, MPH, PIH Director of Policy and Advocacy hosted a press conference call today to discuss the cholera epidemic in Haiti one year after the outbreak. Dr. Farmer, Dr. Ivers and Ms. Barry discussed the urgent need for an integrated response which includes: 1) scaling-up efforts to aggressively identify and treat all those with cholera 2) improving access to clean drinking water and strengthening Haiti’s sanitation infrastructure, and 3) rolling out the safe, affordable and effective oral cholera vaccine, Shanchol.

In one year, cholera has killed over 6,500 Haitians and nearly half a million have been treated for the disease (roughly 5% of the country’s population). Cholera has killed more people in Haiti in one year than it did in all the other countries in the world combined in 2010. Since the start of the outbreak, PIH has mobilized its extensive network of community health workers, nurses and physicians to treat more than 75,000 patients. PIH now operates 12 cholera treatment facilities, and has hired and trained 3,378 community health workers to identify and treat cases of cholera and conduct aggressive public hygiene education campaigns. PIH psychosocial and mental health teams have also counseled and conducted memorial services for more than 4,000 families affected by cholera-related illness or death.

Cholera is well on its way to becoming endemic in Haiti, and, in the absence of a comprehensive and integrated response, cases will continue to rise and fall according to seasonal patterns.

Listen to a recording of the October 19 media call on the player below:

Download audio file [7 MB]

Please see below for key quotes:

Dr. Paul Farmer on need for integrated approach to controlling the cholera epidemic:
“What we're calling for, a year into the epidemic, is a prompt integration of these prevention and care and treatment measures, including: chlorinated water at the household or village level, hand washing and hygiene measures, building up systems that haven't previously had them, improved case-finding, treating with oral rehydration salts and finally integration of oral cholera vaccine.”

Dr. Paul Farmer on Haiti’s water insecurity:
“Some years ago, PIH and many sister organizations began talking about the right to water. We did so because those of us who are clinicians, we can sit in our clinics and work in our hospitals and wait for people to come in sick with complications of water-borne diseases, or we can work with public authorities and appropriate NGO partners and others to build real water security in Haiti. We've been sounding that drum for some years now.”

Dr. Paul Farmer on aid agencies leaving Haiti:
“There's been this steady erosion of support, people coming in and leaving, it's been ADD of humanitarian work, it's just so short term. But we're not there for the short term, our partners are Haitian, we work with the Ministry of Health, our organization is really fundamentally a Haitian organization. And we, unable to retreat to some other activity or some other place in the world, are now probably putting in a half million dollars a month into cholera”

Dr. Paul Farmer on need to increase production of cholera vaccine:
“This entire debate should sound familiar... [because there were] the same discussions around HIV. The failure of imagination regarding price and this fetishized cost -- that it had to cost $10,000 per patient per year [for HIV], which was absurd at the time, because it’s not as if these drugs or the vaccines were made out of platinum... they could easily be manufactured, and the same plunge in prices with the increased demand, we expect to see that with cholera vaccine, and that of course will help us to have a global vaccine stock pile”

Dr. Louise Ivers on PIH cholera cases and aid agencies leaving Haiti:
“We've seen over 75,000 cases of cholera [in PIH-supported facilities] alone, that doesn't include cases that been seen in the communities. Between October 2010 and early January 2011, we had a lot of support from other collaborating organizations that were responding to the epidemic; however, since late winter/early spring of this year, we've seen most of those organizations either move to other parts of the country or stop their cholera treatment activities.“

Dr. Louise Ivers on introducing a safe, effective proven cholera vaccine:
“We are planning to vaccinate about 100,000 Haitians with a vaccine called Shanchol. We're planning on that number because 200,000 doses is the currently available number of vaccine doses, and we'll be working on this project in collaboration with GHESKIO, as well as with the Haitian Ministry of Health. The campaign planning is already underway, including stakeholder meetings and meetings w/ local communities involved in the vaccination campaign to ensure that we can have a communications campaign that really makes sense to explain to everybody involved what the vaccine is, how effective it is, what it means form them, and also for people who don't receive the vaccine, to understand why that might be so at this time.  And our intention is that this would just be the beginning of a larger national campaign to include cholera vaccination as part of national protocols to control the epidemic.”

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