Haiti’s cholera vaccination campaign complicated by gang control

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Haiti on Sunday is launching a campaign to vaccinate more than 10 percent of its population against cholera, but gang control of large swaths of territory will complicate the effort.

The Caribbean country has 1.17 million doses of oral vaccine on hand, with nearly 500,000 more coming.

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The campaign will focus on Haitians aged one to five, with nearly half of confirmed cases affecting that age category.

Cholera has spread rapidly across the country since October. The national Department of Epidemiology, Laboratories and Research has registered more than 14,700 suspected cases, nearly 1,270 confirmed cases and over 290 deaths.

Vaccine supplies are an issue, said Jean Bosco Hulute, a health specialist with the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

“Many countries are currently experiencing cholera epidemics, causing a scarcity of vaccine,” he told AFP.

Hulute noted that a single dose offers six months’ protection, while a second dose can extend that to a full two years.

The vaccination campaign, scheduled to run from December 18 to 22 and then from 27 to 28, will focus on the hardest-hit neighborhoods and communes, including Cite Soleil, Delmas, Carrefour, Port-au-Prince and Mirabelais.

But with gang violence ravaging the impoverished country, the effort will not be easy.

“In unsafe areas, particularly where there have been abductions and gunfire, the vaccination and communications teams will not be totally protected,” according to Hulute.

He said UNICEF was appealing “where the gangs are in control for them to offer unlimited access to the teams, for that is what will permit the population to receive these protective drops of oral vaccine.”

In 2010, a first cholera epidemic swept through Haiti after United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal introduced the disease. In the ensuing decade cholera claimed more than 10,000 lives.

Today, Haitians are painfully aware of the dangers of cholera, but a chaotic political, economic and security situation seriously impedes public health efforts.

While the epidemic has not been as explosive as in 2010, it has hit “every part of the country,” with the crisis conditions “paving the way for outbreaks,” said Tristan Rousset of the Pan American Health Organization.

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