Haiti and the Dominican Republic are the last two countries in the Caribbean region with known cases of malaria, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says he hopes to see an eventual eradication of the disease in both countries. VOA spoke recently with the former president and to members of his Carter Center staff in Atlanta, Georgia about their efforts to curb the mosquito-borne illness.
Poverty and instability are part of life on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And, says former President Jimmy Carter, they are conditions that contribute to malaria infections in both countries, along with a lack of cooperation between the two neighbors
"The Dominican Republic government and the Haiti government, have never got along well. But both trust me, and trust the Carter Center," Mr. Carter said.
That trust enabled Mr. Carter to make a visit to the island in October in an effort to get both countries to cooperate to rid the island of malaria once and for all.
"Having him there focuses attention on the problem," says Dr. Donald Hopkins. Dr. Hopkins is the director of the Carter Center's health programs, and oversees the organization's efforts on the island of Hispaniola. He credits Mr. Carter's recent visit with progress on an unprecedented cross-border eradication effort.
"(It) Gave us leverage in helping to encourage both countries to develop a bi-national plan with a budget and with a target date for getting rid of malaria on the island all together by 2010," Dr. Hopkins said.
This year, malaria infected about 30,000 people in Haiti and several thousand more in the Dominican Republic. A pilot program established by the Carter Center in 2008 helped to curb the disease by donating insecticide treated nets for beds and microscopes to diagnose malaria samples.
Dr. Hopkins says in the wake of Mr. Carter's visit, the emphasis on fighting the disease is shifting. "What we sought to bring that was value added was a focus on elimination, not just on continuing to treat and control the malaria problem," he stated.
The Carter Center is seeking to eradicate malaria on Hispaniola by 2010, and to rid the island of Lymphatic filariasis, a painful swelling disease also spread by mosquitos. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are two of the last outposts in the western hemisphere for the disease.
"The Dominican Republic expects to eliminate lymphatic filariasis by the year 2010. Haiti also announced a plan to eliminate lymphatic filariasis on their side of the island by 2020 because they have much more lymphatic filariasis remaining," Dr. Hopkins said.
"Which means when we are successful, there won't be any more of these diseases anywhere in the Western Hemisphere," Mr. Carter said.
To reach that goal, Mr. Carter says much depends on the willingness of both sides of the island to continue their cooperation.