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Huge Initiative for Mass Cholera Vaccination in Haiti
Posted: Dec 8th, 2016 at 12:00AM
Haiti has been hit particularly hard by Hurricane Matthew, and the category 4 storm has had the usual effects of destroying infrastructure. This has had the usual consequences of course, but in addition, Haiti has always been a hotspot for cholera and cases are rapidly becoming more and more common in certain areas of the storm-ravaged nation.
In a few cases, areas hit hard by the hurricane have seen rates rise by as much as 1000%, representing a rapid epidemic which is set to cause some serious damage. In response, their government is pushing an initiative that will vaccinate almost 800,000 people against cholera.
It's a life-saving move, and it absolutely necessary in order to prevent the damage which has occurred in the wake of Hurrican Matthew. The plan is to vaccinate nearly everyone over a year of age in the heavily impacted southwestern portion of the country.
This represents a challenge, as mobilization and the logistics of the vaccine being used will be difficult due to damaged roads, fallen power lines, and other hazards accompanying the devastation. Some areas are still unable to be reached by road, and that makes it particularly difficult to make sure that the vaccination initiative can reach all of those who are at risk.
Unfortunately, there is also a global shortage of the vaccine so most people will only receive one dose. While a double dose of the vaccine confers complete immunity in about 65% of the population, a single dose only grants immunity in roughly half of the people who receive it.
It presents a challenge, but at least some of the people in the area can avoid infection which will still save lives and help to prevent the spread through contaminated water sources.
Cholera in Haiti
Due to Haiti’s location, it is often hit particularly hard by natural disasters of all sorts. This means frequent breaks in the infrastructure and leaves the nation vulnerable, especially once water sources are infected.
In truth, Haiti has been in the middle of an epidemic for nearly six years at this point. The bacteria is believed to have been introduced in the aftermath of a large earthquake which caused widespread damage in the area in 2010.
This has been largely attributed to the introduction by outside peacekeeping forces from the UN and the unsanitary conditions that people were living in after the earthquake, many being forced into makeshift refugee camps without knowledge or resources to clean their water supply.
Six years on from the initial introduction of the disease to the island in mass amounts, there are still nearly fifty deaths from the disease per month and it’s estimated that roughly 7% of the population has been affected by cholera in some way.
This was the nation hit by Hurricane Matthew, and it’s easy to see why the numbers are rising again with the holes in infrastructure created in the aftermath of the disaster.
Most households in Haiti lack running water and many are still in camps after the initial devastation of the 2010 earthquake. Consequently, each rainy season sees a rise in the disease despite the best efforts of those in charge.
The prompt response and administration of the cholera vaccine may very well be the only thing standing between the people living there and an even more massive wave of death and disease being spread through the area.
Further Measures to Be Taken
The U.N. has actually accepted responsibility for the introduction of cholera to Haiti, as there had been no epidemic on the island in recorded history before their peacekeeping efforts in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
While the vaccine initiative is definitely a step in the right direction, it's clear that other preventative measures will need to be taken in order to eradicate the disease in the area. The cholera vaccine is still needed, but the shortage and the lack of complete efficacy even with the proper dosing regimen mean that there will have to be further actions taken.
The primary vector through which cholera spreads is infected water. The bacteria thrive in water and humans need quite a bit of it just to survive. The lack of running water in most areas of the country means that once a water source is infected many people are sure to be on the receiving end of this devastating illness.
Clean water initiatives will have to be undertaken in the near future in order to cut off the high rates of death from the disease which are occurring. It's the only truly effective measure to keep those in the area from experiencing the disease more and more as time goes on.
It's a grim situation, but efforts are underway to ensure that the people of the nation will be protected.
Many have argued that it is only due to lack of effort that epidemics like this continue, and wish to undertake to build the necessary infrastructure in order to protect against these kinds of outbreaks. Until their wishes are a reality, however, the situation will continue to progress no matter what medical efforts are taken against it.
In many ways, it is a disease of inequality. Lacking running water and being in a confined area prone to natural disasters, Haiti represents a perfect storm for the bacteria to take hold and the number of deaths there since its introduction have been simply staggering.
The vaccine initiative being undertaken is historic in its own right: it's the largest mass cholera vaccination ever attempted. The current hope is that the measure will prove to be efficacious and help to slow the spread before further preventative measures can be taken. There will be difficulties in logistics along the way, but it can be done provided enough people get behind the effort.
Cholera is deadly and the nations it afflicts are generally those who are the most helpless against its spread. The vaccination effort, if combined with the proper after measures, might just be the best hope for the developing nation.
e7 Health has the cholera vaccine in stock. Call us today or book your travel consultation online to learn more about staying safe while traveling!
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