TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

Cholera epidemic drives public health progress in Haiti

The Haitian cholera epidemic rallied public health communities to seek water improvements that could prevent future infections, according to a recent article in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The authors said that the sewer and water improvements, combined with vaccination, could prevent some 89,000 future cholera infections. The devastating cholera epidemic followed an earthquake in 2010 that claimed more than 8,000 lives in Haiti.

"This dreadful disease has become a clarion call for action that could have far-reaching benefits for the people of Haiti beyond ending cholera transmission," Jon Andrus, the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, said. "We've struggled to improve Haiti's overall public health for decades. Now we arrive at a critical juncture where from the depths of a terrible epidemic there is an opportunity for Haiti to rise up to a new level of protection against infectious diseases."

The study, conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that even modest improvements could prevent up to 78,567 cholera cases. Achieving a 20 percent coverage rate of oral cholera vaccine could raise the total to 88,974 cases prevented.

PAHO, the CDC and UNICEF recently joined with the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to develop a national plan to eliminate cholera. The $2.2 billion program would focus on improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene conditions to stop cholera infections from spreading.

"The biggest national cholera outbreak in modern times is still not under control and it's happening right on America's doorstep," Edward Ryan, the director of Tropical & Geographical Medicine Center at Massachusetts General, said. "So it is gratifying to see our global health community with our Haitian colleagues rallying to the cause and providing the many insights we need to not just eliminate cholera but to conquer a wide range of water-borne diseases."