The Haitian government along with international partners, including the WHO, launched a vaccination campaign against cholera on Saturday targeting 100,000 people in vulnerable areas of the country.
The program was launched in the slum area of Cite de Dieu, in the Haitian capital, where health practitioners are going door-to-door to deliver doses to pre-registered recipients.
“I am very happy that I received the vaccine because now I will live my life with less anxiety,” Mariane Joseph said, after drinking the dose. “I have been waiting for this vaccine for a long time because we are exposed here to catching cholera.”
More than 7,000 Haitians have died of cholera since an epidemic broke out in 2010.
Gabriel Thimote, director-general of the health department, said the 100,000 beneficiaries in two regions in the west and northern Artibonite region would receive two doses of the vaccine, called Shanchol, that will protect them for two to three years with an efficiency rate of about 65 percent.
“It is a pilot program that we are launching in two areas in the country, but it will be later extended to the rest of the population with a priority for areas at risk,” Thimote said.
In the capital, the program is being implemented by the Gheskio Center, a Haitian health non-governmental organization (NGO) that specializes in fighting the AIDS virus and other infectious diseases, while another international NGO, Partners In Health, led by UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti Paul Farmer, has been designated to carry out the vaccination program in Bokozel, near the northern town of Saint-Marc.
Haitian Minister of Public Health and Population Florence Duperval Guillaume rejected allegations that the vaccine is experimental and could have side effects. The vaccination program was delayed several weeks after some critics suggested the campaign was a research project to test new, unapproved drugs.
“This is vaccine that has already been certified by the World Health Organization and our campaign has nothing to do with an experimentation that could have recipients running risks,” Guillaume said. “People have nothing to fear.”
The number of cholera cases has increased slightly in Haiti over the past few weeks, with frequent torrential rains spreading the bacteria in several areas where health officials had brought the disease under control.
The Western Hemisphere’s only cholera epidemic has infected nearly 550,000 and killed 7,400 people in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic since October 2010 — with nearly all of the deaths in Haiti, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Cases of cholera first emerged in central Haiti’s Artibonite River region, possibly as a result of poor sanitary conditions at a UN base of peacekeepers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic. Haiti previously had no cases of cholera in recorded history.