Worsening cholera in Haiti, Yemen prompts stepped-up response

Hurricane Matthew devestation in Haiti
Hurricane Matthew devestation in Haiti

Hurricane Matthew devestation in Haiti., Stefania Trassari, OCHA Haiti / Flickr cc

With cholera outbreaks intensifying in two different parts of the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday announced major response steps: the upcoming launch of a vaccine campaign for hurricane-hit parts of Haiti, and the release of $1 million in emergency funding to support Yemen's battle against the disease.

Haiti's cholera levels had already been trending higher than the past few seasons before Hurricane Matthew hit the country in early October, destroying water and sanitation systems and causing flooding, especially in two western departments.

Yemen, meanwhile, announced its outbreak in early October. It began in the city of Sanaa and is unfolding against the backdrop of conflict with Saudi Arabia that has damaged waters supplies and other infrastructure.

Haiti to launch vaccine drive

From Oct 4 to Oct 24 Haiti has reported 3,423 suspected cases, including 1,065 from Sud department and 752 from Grand'Anse department, according to an update from the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, posted on Reliefweb.

The WHO and its regional office, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said yesterday that they would support a cholera vaccine campaign announced by Haiti's health ministry. Global health officials have approved the ministry's request of 1 million doses to reduce the disease burden in Sud and Grand'Anse departments.

Haiti's campaign will target 820,000 people over age 1 and will begin on Nov 8, according to a press release from WHO and PAHO.

Dr Daphne Benoit, Haiti's health minister, said in the statement, "The vaccine is an additional intervention which will help us to save lives, but does not replace the efforts that the government supports in the field of water and sanitation."

The WHO didn't list a case total but said significant increases in cases and deaths have been reported from several places in the two affected departments.

Cholera has been endemic to Haiti since 2010, when UN peacekeepers improperly dumped human waste into the Artibonite River. Since then, there have been 10,000 deaths due to cholera infection. The UN recently admitted some responsibility for the outbreak after a US court said the organization was immune from paying any legal damages to victims and earlier this week said it hopes to raise $200 million to help Haitian families and communities affected by the earlier outbreak.

Funding for Yemen's response

Meanwhile, Yemen has 1,410 suspected cholera cases in 10 of its 23 governorates, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said today at a media briefing in Geneva, according to a Reuters report.

The WHO and its regional affiliate, the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO), said in a joint statement yesterday that 47 of the cases are confirmed and 6 deaths have been reported.

Chronic underfunding for Yemen has slowed the ability of the WHO and its partners to respond to the outbreak, prompting the agency to release $1 million from its emergency contingency fund and its regional office's emergency solidarity fund.

New support will help scale up surveillance, boost lab capacity, increase the number of cholera treatment centers, train staff, pre-position medical supplies, and create health education campaigns.

About 7.6 million people live in the outbreak region, including more than 3 million internally displaced people who are especially vulnerable, the WHO said, adding that, without a sustained response, the disease total could reach 76,000 cases.

On Oct 17 the WHO put out a donor appeal for $22.35 million to help with the response to Yemen's cholera outbreak, but as of Oct 26 it had received only $1.7 million, all of it from sources within the WHO and UN.

See also:

Oct 27 Reliefweb report

Oct 27 WHO-PAHO press release

Oct 28 Reuters story

Oct 27 WHO-EMRO press release

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