Dramatic improvements in water and sanitation services are needed to eliminate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, health experts who took part in a United Nations-organized briefing to outline concrete steps to stem the spread of the disease in the region said today.
The event, organized by the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional arm, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), urged governments and international organizations to boost investment in the infrastructure and institutional capacity required to provide water and sanitation in areas affected by the disease.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the bacterium known as vibrio cholerae. The disease has a short incubation period and produces a toxin that causes continuous watery diarrhoea, a condition that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not administered promptly. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.
While cholera no longer poses a threat to countries with high standards of hygiene, it remains a challenge in countries with limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly reiterated his Government’s commitment to tackle the disease. “On the eve of the second anniversary of the terrible earthquake that devastated our country, marked progress has been made toward reconstruction, but much remains to be done,” he said.
“Safe drinking water and adequate sanitary facilities are the right of every Haitian. Only a joint, comprehensive strategic approach can help us eliminate cholera, which has stricken half a million Haitians and killed thousands.”
The President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández stressed his Government’s willingness to collaborate with Haiti through vaccination programmes and control strategies.