Amid the boom of development projects focused on rehabilitating Haiti’s physical structure, the health of many is still in shambles as cholera continues to claim lives two years after the epidemic initially took hold. Now, although a life-saving vaccine is ready for distribution, its rollout has been stalled by Haitian officials waiting for word on whether the medicines are still considered experimental.
Last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the super-cheap, dollar-a-dose cholera vaccine that stands ready to be distributed to nearly 100,000 Haitians. However, as Haiti’s rainy season approaches, bringing with it the likely increase in cholera cases, the medicine sits unused in large refrigerators as it awaits approval from a national ethics committee, charged with determining whether the vaccine is no longer considered experimental.
Despite the green light from President Michel Martelly and public health organizations working in Haiti, the national ethics committee insists on further verification that the vaccine has been properly approved. Although now supported by organizations such as the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization, both organizations and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously opposed distribution of the medicine.
However, in light of the impending rainy season, advocates say there is no time to stall. Last May, Haiti saw its biggest spike of cholera cases and related deaths.
"When it rains, everything mixes. It becomes a soup," Dr. Rouzier, of Haitian medical group GHESKIO, told NPR. "Which is a perfect breeding ground for every diarrheal disease, cholera included. The houses get flooded, and people are up to their knees in water and they just have to wait for the water to recede."
Haiti's cholera outbreak began in October 2010 following the devastating earthquake that leveled much of its capital, Port-au-Prince. Since then, the epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 and sickened more than 500,000. Studies claim the disease was likely brought to the country by U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal, stationed in Haiti to assist with maintaining order in the wake of the earthquake.
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(Photo: THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images)
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