New Haitian leader calls cholera top threat 

By Sara A. Carter

The Washington Examiner

President-elect Michel Martelly of Haiti said Thursday that stopping another outbreak of cholera in his poverty stricken nation is one of his top priorities.

Martelly, who spoke to reporters at the National Press Club said although there has been less death from cholera since last year's major outbreak, there is concern that the disease continues to spread and "we have not eradicated it yet."

Concern is growing that a second major outbreak of cholera will dwarf last year's in which nearly 5,000 died. Some Haitian communities have seen an increase in cholera infections since the March rainy season began. When asked by The Washington Examiner if he would move forward with the World Health Organization's recommendation to reinstate plans for a cholera vaccination pilot program in Haiti, Martelly said he would do what is necessary to "implement that program to eradicate cholera."

A cholera vaccination program in Haiti would face enormous logistical problems. "We share [Martelly's] concern that there could be a resurgence of cholera," said Dr. Eric Mintz, who has traveled many times to Haiti to run anti-cholera programs for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Haiti would need 20 million doses of the vaccine to provide the nearly 10 million residents with the recommended two doses, he said. "We can safely say there is nowhere near 20 million doses of cholera vaccine available in the world at present," he added.

Last year, the outgoing government, on recommendations by the WHO, was planning to move forward with a preliminary pilot study of a new vaccine to target those most at risk. However, as elections neared, there was concern among government officials that people "who were not designated to receive the vaccine would see it as unfair, so the pilot study was abandoned," an American official close to the discussions, told The Examiner.

Last year, the WHO recommended that 250,000 to 300,000 doses of Dukoral, the only vaccine approved for cholera, be administered in Haiti, according to news reports from the region.

The only other vaccine for cholera is Shanchol, which is made in India. Although it is still awaiting approval from WHO, it is considered cheaper and easier to administer. A study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco, along with Harvard Medical School predicts that the "cholera epidemic in Haiti this year will be far worse than United Nations' projections, which estimated 400,000 cases ... over the course of the epidemic," according to the UCSF website.

UCSF researcher Dr. Sanjay Basu, said possibly 779,000 people could be infected between March and November this year, according to the study's website.

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at scarter@washingtonexaminer.com.

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