Five months after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon promised to “use every opportunity” to push for funding to eliminate cholera from Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, government officials in both nations are still waiting on donors to open their wallets.
The feet-dragging comes as the rainy season begins and a new French study says the disease could quickly be eliminated from Haiti if investments are made to restrain transmissions.
“Cholera is only shrinking and has not yet disappeared. But it can disappear if the fight is correctly managed,” said Dr. Renaud Piarroux, who has studied the deadly waterborne disease in Haiti since it first appeared in October 2010.
Piarroux’s study first came to light last week when Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe was asked at Columbia University about the government’s plan to combat cholera.
But he mischaracterized the report’s findings when he stated that “cholera right now is disappearing” from Haiti and the country is seeing less than three cases a day. Lamothe’s Ministry of Health statistics show an average of 150 cholera cases a day so far this year.
His comments triggered a debate in Haiti about whether the government was underplaying the seriousness of the epidemic. He later backed off the statement when asked by The Miami Herald for clarification.
“This isn’t a sign of cholera’s disappearance, but rather its persistence and the reasons are simple — funding for the cholera response has greatly declined, and the response capacity has therefore diminished,” said Jake Johnston, international research associate and lead blogger on Haiti’s relief and reconstruction for the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“This is now the third year that funding for cholera has diminished prior to the rainy season when cases will predictably spike, leading to more easily preventable and unnecessary deaths,” Johnston added.
Johnston said he isn’t surprised by the U.N.’s inability to mobilize funding to eradicate cholera in Haiti, where more than 654,000 have been sickened and more than 8,100 have already died.
More than three years after the international community pledged $5.4 billion to help Haiti rebuild after its devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, more than $2 billion remains outstanding. Meanwhile, emergency cholera funds in Haiti are quickly drying up.
A $32 million appeal after an upsurge in cholera cases following Hurricane Sandy in October only received 32 percent of funding, said George Ngwa, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. And as of Tuesday, a $37 million Haiti Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) has only received 19 percent of funding.
“Water, sanitation and health activities related to cholera are so far the least funded sectors of the HAP,” Ngwa said. “The impact of this drastic underfunding is glaring on the ground.”
Not only are the number of non-governmental organizations responding to cholera in Haiti dwindling but the number of cholera treatment centers and units have fallen from 186 in December 2010 to 38 today. Even a surveillance system implemented to save lives by detecting outbreaks is dysfunctional, said the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti.