INTERVIEW: UN health official discusses unprecedented vaccination campaign to tackle cholera in Haiti

5 July 2016

The World Health Organization (WHO) Representative for Haiti, Jean-Luc Poncelet, today stressed that vaccines along with water chlorination programmes, and longer-term efforts to improve water and the overall health system are vital to fight the prevalence of cholera in the country.

“The health system is very weak […] so we must use every single tool to ensure that cholera is reduced further in this country,” said Mr. Poncelet in an interview with the United Nations News Service.”

So far this year, a total of 118,000 persons have already been vaccinated and the Government, with UN support, now seeks to vaccinate another 750,000 persons in 2016-2017, which would allow WHO to reach some 868,000 people with vaccinations in the period, in so far as funding and vaccines are available. “With 1.5 million doses, it is the first time that such a programme will be undertaken,” he added.

Mr. Poncelet said that the vaccine, developed about five years ago and having an efficacy of 65 per cent, has been well-received by the local population. He added that it is important to understand that merely by the application of the vaccine, cholera will not be eliminated. “[Nonetheless] it will be a strong contributor to it,” he stressed.

Recalling a meeting of health experts in Haiti in April 2016, he underlined that it is very important that people, especially those receiving the vaccine, have access to chlorinated drinking water.

“By applying this [two-pronged] approach – water chlorination and vaccines – the number of cases in the department can be reduced,” said Mr. Poncelet.

Emphasizing the importance of sustained funding, he said that due to new “hot-spots” such as Syria and Sudan, as well as a level of “donor fatigue,” funds are declining for programmes in Haiti.

He further expressed hope that with the new strategies, use of new tools and building on the experience WHO has gained in Haiti and in other countries, new cases of cholera will be reduced.

On wider WHO programmes in the country, Mr. Poncelet explained that the agency has been supporting the implementation of a 10-year national plan which has four critical components, including surveillance programmes to identify any new cases of the disease; response programmes that deploy teams including physicians, health promoters and water and sanitation experts; programmes to chlorinate water both at the household and at the distribution level; and water and sanitation programmes such as increasing access to latrines and sewage systems.


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