By The Caribbean Journal
December 11, 2012
Above: workers load supplies for distribution to cholera victims (FP/UN Photo/Marco Dormino)
A new United Nations initiative aims to eliminate cholera in Haiti and in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, the world body announced Tuesday.
The plan, which was unveiled at the UN’s New York headquarters, will support the existing Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in the Island of Hispaniola, which was launched in 2011 by Haiti President Michel Martelly and then-Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez.
“The new initiative will invest in prevention, treatment, and education — it will take a holistic approach to tackling the cholera challenge,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. “The main focus is on the extension of clean drinking water and sanitation systems – but we are also determined to save lives now through the use of an oral cholera vaccine.”
Ban said cholera had killed more than 7,750 people in Haiti, infecting 620,000.
Several studies have pointed to UN peacekeepers from Nepal as the source of the outbreak in Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake.
At a press briefing Monday, Martelly told reporters he “certainly” wanted the UN to take responsibility for its role in bringing the disease to Haiti.
“Haiti has seen a dramatic fall in infection and fatality rates. But this will not be a short-term crisis,” Mr. Ban said. “Eliminating cholera from Haiti will continue to require the full cooperation and support of the international community.”
The UN said Haiti will need $500 million over the next two years to carry out its national plan to fight cholera.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which filed a lawsuit against the UN involving cholera, said it welcomed Ban’s plan.
“As our complaint explained, the UN has an obligation to control the cholera outbreak caused by its malfeasance,” said Mario Joseph, lead counsel for the petitioners in the lawsuit and managing attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. “We are pleased that the UN is finally taking steps consistent with its legal obligations, but more resources are needed and there needs to be more urgency. Haitians will continue to die from UN cholera until clean water and sanitation is actually installed.”
Ban said $215 million in existing funds from bilateral and multilateral donors would be used to support the plan.
He said the world body would be committing $23.5 million on top of the $118 million the UN had already reportedly spent on fighting the disease.
“Today, as ever, we are in Haiti for one reason alone: to help the Haitian people make their great country all that it can be,” Ban said. “We know the elimination of cholera is possible. Science tells us it can be done. It has happened in difficult environments around the world. It can and will happen in Haiti.”
Dr Paul Farmer has been named a special advisor for Ban focusing on community-based medicine.