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Haiti Cholera Operations Seriously Underfunded

A woman suffering from cholera symptoms is helped at an earthquake refugee camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 8, 2011
A woman suffering from cholera symptoms is helped at an earthquake refugee camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 8, 2011
Lisa Schlein

The United Nations is holding a special meeting with donor countries to drum up support for its cholera treatment and control operations in Haiti. It says it has received less than half of the $175 million it needs to carry out its life-saving programs in the country.

The United Nations reports cholera cases throughout Haiti are slowly declining. But says the emergency is far from over, as the death rate in remote rural areas remains very high.

Latest figures from the Haitian government cite more than 231,000 reported cases and more than 4,500 cholera deaths since the epidemic began in October.

Health agencies say this is the first outbreak of cholera in Haiti in at least 100 years. But the agencies warn now that it is present in the country, cholera will continue to be a problem for months and years to come.

U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says it is critical to strengthen treatment programs. She says the shortage of non-governmental agencies to treat the sick in difficult to reach mountain villages is very worrisome.

“There are two aspects of this problem,” Byrs said. “Some NGOs are working in emergency relief assistance. And, these NGOs have finished their job and now they leave. But some of them need funding, they have not even enough funding to implement their projects. That is why we urgently need the money for our appeal, which is $175 million.”  

The World Health Organization says it is trying to keep the anti-cholera efforts from collapsing. The U.N. says it has received about $80 million, less than half of its appeal.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib says her agency is working with the Haitian Ministry of Health to replace NGOs that were running cholera centers. She says these vital projects are increasingly being integrated in the country’s overall health-management programs.

“There is an exit strategy put in place by WHO as the lead health organization with the Ministry of Health that the cholera centers can be run by the local health authorities ... at the beginning, it was a new disease for the country,” Chaib said. “So, they needed really to learn how to manage it. Now, it is done. Many people know how to not get infected by cholera.”  

Chaib says WHO is concerned about the possible spread of cholera during the upcoming Carnival season from contaminated food and drink. She says health authorities are running an information campaign warning people of the dangers and providing tips on how they can protect themselves from getting the disease.

When cholera first erupted, mortality rates were as high as nine percent. National mortality rates are now down to two percent. And, spokeswoman Chaib says the World Health Organization is working to bring that rate to less than one percent.

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