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Health authorities from Haiti and the Dominican Republic pledge joint action to eliminate cholera

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The ministers of health of Haiti (Dr. Florence Guillaume) and the Dominican Republic (Dr. Bautista Rojas) reaffirmed their governments' commitment to carry out joint efforts to eliminate cholera from the island of Hispaniola over the next 10 years.

The joint announcement followed a two-day meeting in Port-au-Prince in which the health leaders agreed on a joint strategy for cholera elimination. The strategy includes measures to improve access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and to strengthen health services so they can provide better treatment for the disease.

Other participants in the March 12-13 meeting included Dr. Socorro Gross, Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The three organizations are partners in the "Call to Action: A cholera-free Hispaniola" initiative, which was launched at PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C., in January of this year.

"I am filled with enthusiasm and hope because we are giving continuity, in the short term, to that meeting in which both countries, led by their presidents, supported PAHO's call to eliminate cholera from the entire territory of the island of Hispaniola," said Secretary of Public Health Bautista Rojas of the Dominican Republic.

Minister of Health of Haiti Dr. Florence Guillaume reconfirmed her country's commitment to the initiative and said that only through the coordinated participation of all sectors --public, private and civil society-- will it be possible to achieve a "cholera-free Haiti."

"I want to join the two ministers in commiting ourselves not only to eliminating cholera from Hispaniola, recognizing our shared epidemiology, but also to working together to promote both countries' development," said Dr. Gross.

Technical teams from both countries, assisted by representatives of international organizations, developed a series of recommendations to be implemented in each country and in border areas. The two countries also agreed to carry out joint epidemiological surveillance; to improve early warning, prevention and health promotion; and to facilitate prompt treatment of cases.

Meeting participants emphasized the importance of broad intersectoral participation in the cholera-free Hispaniola initiative, including international financial and technical cooperation agencies as well as nongovernmental, religious, and community organizations, and the private sector.

On January 11 of this year, the presidents of Haiti and the Dominican Republic joined representatives of PAHO, UNICEF and the CDC in calling for major new investments in water and sanitation infrastructure to end cholera in Hispaniola.

Such investments are needed to bring Haiti up to the level of neighboring countries in terms of access to water and sanitation services. Even before the 2010 earthquake, only 63 percent of Haitians had access to improved sources of drinking water, and access to sanitation services had actually declined from 26 percent to 17 percent of the population between 1990 and 2008. These conditions facilitated the rapid spread of cholera after the initial outbreak in October of 2010.