Although Haiti is in the “homestretch” of defeating a cholera outbreak first declared nine years ago, the battle is far from over before the country is free of the deadly disease.
That’s according to UN Special Envoy Josette Sheeran, writing in an op-ed published in The Miami Herald last week, who reported that there have been no laboratory-confirmed cases of cholera in the entire country for the past nine months.
She said the “momentous achievement” was the result of an innovative strategic partnership between the Government, the UN and key stakeholders. Furthermore, it took place during a time of multiple national crises, supply chain breakdowns, and while the UN presence there was in transition.
UN should have responded ‘more effectively’
“When UN Secretary-General António Guterres took office in 2017, he lamented that the United Nations, which has apologized for its role in the epidemic, simply did not do enough at the onset of the crisis and should have responded more effectively and quickly. We have since worked overtime to be the full partners that Haiti has deserved,” she wrote.
Ms. Sheeran said the UN and its partners worked side-by-side with the Haitian authorities to develop a unified approach and financial strategy against cholera, with more than $700 million invested since 2010.
The partnership helped enact several innovative approaches that led to the milestone of zero cases reported.
“The first was achieving unified buy-in on a detailed comprehensive three-year strategy to end the epidemic signed by the prime minister and myself with the backing of a full range of implementers, experts and stakeholders”, Ms. Sheeran revealed.
“Such a plan is often missing in tackling epidemics, but I found it vital that all involved follow the same battle plan.”
Haiti lacks adequate healthcare infrastructure and rapid response teams were deployed to all affected areas to identify, decontaminate, treat and contain cholera cases.
Staffed entirely by Haitians, they “stopped the lion’s share of transmissions and deaths,” according to Ms. Sheehan.
Effective model for future epidemics
“They demonstrated that cholera can be brought under control by intervening directly through an effective alert-response system at the community level. I believe this model can be effective in other epidemics throughout the world,” she added.
The Ministry of Health also worked with UN agencies to create an effective surveillance network. National laboratory capacity as well as specimen transport capacity have improved so that up to 98% of suspected cases, and a significant number of non-suspected cases, are now tested.
The UN envoy urged the international community to continue working towards a cholera-free Haiti. With a roughly $20 million funding gap through 2022, there is no time to rest.
“If Haiti is now in the homestretch of defeating the cholera epidemic, the battle is not yet won,” she said.
“As the country continues to face unrest and a difficult political situation, we must protect the gains realized for the men, women and children of Haiti.”