Cholera Plagues Haiti As UN Appeals For Relief Funds

on December 12 2012 4:07 PM
haiti
At a camp for displaced persons in Port au Prince, Haiti, residents get bleach and water purification tablets which are used in cholera prevention. UN/MINUSTAH/Logan Abassi

The U.N. has requested $2.2 billion to battle a cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed nearly 8,000 people since 2010.

Working with the Haitian government, the U.N. has outlined a 10-year plan to improve water and sanitation systems and provide treatment to those affected by the life-threatening disease.

“The new initiative will invest in prevention, treatment and education -- it will take a holistic approach to tackling the cholera challenge,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday in a press conference.

“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.”

Mr. Ban seeks to raise $500 million for the first phase of the plan over the next two years. He said that slightly less than half of that amount had already been raised.

“Today I am pleased to announce that $215 million in existing funds from bilateral and multilateral donors will be used to support the initiative. I thank the donor community for this generous commitment,” Mr. Ban said.

“The United Nations will do its part. We are committing $23.5 million, building on the $118 million the U.N. system has spent on the cholera response to date.”

An additional $1.7 billion will be sought during the next eight years to eliminate the disease.

Haiti was struck by a cholera outbreak that killed roughly 7,000 people several months after a devastating 2010 earthquake killed an estimated 250,000 people.

It has become increasingly evident that the cholera pathogen was introduced to Haiti via U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, where scientists have identified the original strain.

"We now know that the strain of cholera in Haiti is an exact match for the strain of cholera in Nepal," said Dr. Danielle Lantagne, a cholera expert employed by the U.N., the BBC reported.

In the area surrounding Port-au-Prince, the country's capital and most populous city, underdeveloped water and sanitation systems, many of which were damaged in the earthquake, are believed to have contributed to the spread of the waterborne pathogen.

While the U.N. has acknowledged that scientific evidence supports the idea that its employees may have introduced the cholera bacteria, it has avoided claiming responsibility for the outbreak, saying that it was not the fault of “any group or individual,” according to the Guardian.

A recent spike in cholera-related deaths has put the Haitian government on high alert, particularly in the wake of heavy rains from Hurricane Sandy, which passed through in October.

“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.”

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