Cholera Infections Rising Again in Haiti as Rainy Season Begins, Highlighting Urgency for NGOs, Agencies to Redouble Their Efforts, CEPR Co-Director Says

By: Center For Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

Washington, D.C.– Cholera infections are rising again with rainy weather in Haiti in a predictable seasonal shift, and the international community must act quickly to contain the epidemic, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot cited a new investigative article on the cholera outbreak in the New York Times by Deborah Sontag that describes how cholera resurged during the 2011 rainy season after NGO’s pulled back their treatment and prevention efforts during the dry season months.

“We saw what happened last year,” Weisbrot said. “The international community and some NGO’s cut back on cholera treatment and prevention just before the rainy season, and there was a spike in infections and deaths. They have the resources to contain and then eliminate Haiti’s cholera epidemic. What is needed is the will to make it happen.”

The latest figures from the Haitian Ministry of Health show 15 cholera deaths in just 8 days, from March 8 – 16, the most recent data available. This is an increase from the previous two months, in which there were 13 for the entire month of February and eight in January.

Weisbrot pointed to a planned vaccination program – currently stalled — as well as treatment and prevention efforts as program areas that need to be fully funded and implemented as soon as possible.

“Part of cholera prevention is ensuring access to clean water and sanitation,” Weisbrot said. “But as everyone knows, Haiti’s internally displaced persons – among many others – are a long way from having access to these necessities. In many camps there is no money going to empty latrines, going on months now. Sanitation does not exist in such situations – but disease thrives.”

The increase in cholera infections and deaths during the 2011 rainy season was predictable, and predicted, Weisbrot noted. A CEPR report released last year stated that “despite myriad warnings, many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) withdrew from cholera treatment efforts right before this summer’s rainy season and the predictable increase in the number of cholera cases that followed.”

The paper also pointed out that “To date, treatment is still unequally focused on urban centers despite the much higher fatality rates in Haiti’s more rural areas” – an exacerbating factor also described in Sontag’s article.

Weisbrot added that in the longer term, the international community should help eradicate cholera on the entire island of Hispaniola by assisting Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic with the acquisition of an adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.  Agencies including the Pan American Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF have stated that “controlling cholera in Hispaniola over the long term will be only possible through investments in water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure…”

“Given the U.N.’s inadvertent role in introducing cholera to Haiti in October 2010, the international community has a responsibility to ensure that funding is made available for this infrastructure to be completed over the next few years,” Weisbrot said.

The New York Times article on Sunday cited UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti Paul Farmer:  “In the future, historians will look back and say, ‘Wow, that’s unfortunate… This unfolded right under the noses of all those NGOs. And they will ask, ‘Why didn’t they try harder? Why didn’t they throw the kitchen sink at cholera in Haiti?’ ”

Sontag described the tragic resurgence in deaths in her article as well: “[S]ome think cholera could have been stymied, even eradicated, last winter during the dry season after the first wave. Instead, it flared with the rains even as aid groups shuttered or reduced operations. And now, after another winter without an aggressive prevention and eradication effort, the health authorities fear a reprise.”