Haiti reached the milestone this week of an entire year free from any new cases of deadly waterborne disease cholera following a nine-year long outbreak in the country that affected over 820,00 people and killed close to 10,000.
Marking the milestone, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the UN deeply regretted “the loss of life and suffering caused” by the epidemic, which began in October 2010, and is widely believed to have been imported by UN peacekeepers.
Despite progress, Haiti remains behind the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of access to potable water and sanitation. Over a third of the population (35 percent) lack basic drinking water services and two-thirds (65 percent) have limited or no sanitation services. This is far below the regional average of 3 percent and 13 percent respectively.
Containment of the disease has been driven by concerted efforts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Haitian Government and others, to address the root causes of cholera.
In order to end cholera in Haiti and receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating the disease, the country must maintain effective surveillance systems and remain cholera-free for two more years (three years in total). Early detection and response to possible flare-ups must also continue and addressing the issue of clean water and sanitation for all Haitian people is key to preventing the transmission of cholera, and other water-borne diseases, in the long-term, according to PAHO Director, Dr Carissa F Etienne.
“Cholera is a disease of inequity that unduly sickens and kills the poorest and most vulnerable people – those without access to clean water and sanitation.” “While cholera is under control for now, we must collectively remain alert and ready to maintain this status and verify elimination. Only when we ensure all Haitians enjoy access to clean water and sanitation can we breathe more freely.”
PAHO and the Haitian Ministry of Health’s Labo Moto project, which works on the ground to enable field nurses to rapidly transport samples from treatment centers to laboratories on motorcycles, has been key to testing of suspected cases. LaboMoto is part of a three-step strategy to ensure that all suspected cases from high-risk areas are tested; that random sampling of patients with diarrhea is implemented in all areas of the country; and that event-based (rumour) surveillance is also carried out by epidemiologists.