This week, a year and half after the first few cholera cases ignited a national epidemic in Haiti, a small fraction of Haiti's at risk population got their first dose of the preventative cholera vaccine, Shanchol. 100,000 people in Port-au-Prince and a rural rice-growing community near St. Marc will eventually receive both doses of the oral vaccine.
Cholera first appeared in Haiti in October 2010. The catastrophic earthquake earlier that year in January worsened sanitation and infrastructure problems which spread cholera throughout Haiti in just a few short months. In total more than 500,000 Haitians fell ill with cholera, and more than 7000 died.
The vaccination campaign has been mired with controversy since planning began at the beginning of the outbreak. This New York Times article explains the political roadblocks and public skepticism that prevented organizers from initiating vaccinations before the rainy/cholera season began in April.
The article ends with a pointed message from Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health (Partners in Health organized the campaign with Gheskio). He says, “If cholera had exploded in the United States like it did in Haiti, everybody would have gotten the vaccine by now.”
This experience in Haiti showcases the difficulties governments and development organizations often face getting vaccines and treatments to the people that need them most in developing countries. Because of this, a major part of Sabin's mission is to work with stakeholders to overcome these hurdles. We advocate to not only increase immunization and disease treatment, but to create sustainable programs that are part of strengthened health systems.
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