World Bank head Jim Yong Kim calls for renewed urgency in Haiti’s cholera fight

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
Hassene Dridi / AP

The head of the World Bank is calling for a renewed sense of urgency and more coordination from the international community to help Haiti eliminate cholera, which has killed thousands of Haitians since its outbreak in October 2010.

“Cholera can be eliminated in Haiti. We need to do much more to strengthen Haitian institutions and support the government’s cholera elimination plan,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “This will require an integrated multi-sector approach that prioritizes improvements in water and health programs for the most vulnerable people.”

Kim’s appeal comes ahead of an April 22 meeting in Port-au-Prince to review the progress in Haiti’s cholera fight, and an upcoming delivery of anti-cholera medication this week. On Wednesday, JetBlue Airways will lead a humanitarian mission to Haiti, transporting among other supplies, water purification powder for 4 million liters of fresh water to help prevent the disease’s transmission.

Earlier this month, the European Commission gave $2 million to UNICEF to strengthen prevention and rapid response to cholera in Haiti ahead of hurricane season, which begins in June.

“This contribution will allow UNICEF and its partners to intensify actions on the ground, especially in the high-risk areas,” said Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF representative in Haiti.

But much more is needed said Kim, whose own donor organization has contributed more than $35 million in cholera prevention and treatment, and this year plans to invest $30 million in a water project.

Meanwhile, a $2.27 billion, 10-year cholera elimination plan launched by Haiti and the United Nations is struggling to attract donors’ support. The plan outlines needed investments in water and sanitation as well as prevention, surveillance and management of cases.

Human-rights activists and lawyers who have filed several lawsuits in U.S. courts on behalf of victims and their families against the United Nations, accuse the global body of introducing the disease in Haiti. The U.N. has refused to address the accusations directly, instead assigning a senior coordinator to help coordinate the cholera response plan.

Pedro Medrano, the U.N.’s cholera envoy, has also accused donors of not doing enough to assist in the elimination efforts. If donors don’t step up, Medrano said, cholera could not only spike in Haiti but further spread to other countries in the hemisphere.

Kim voiced similar concerns Friday during a meeting of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.

Since the waterborne disease’s outbreak in Haiti, 10 months after the country’s devastating earthquake, cholera has killed more than 8,500 Haitians and sickened more than 700,000, according to Haiti’s health ministry.

And while the country is seeing some of the lowest numbers of suspected cholera cases since the outbreak — they have dropped from a monthly average of more than 35,000 in the first year of the epidemic to around 4,900 in 2013 — experts warn Haiti still has the highest number of reported cholera cases in the world.

“Much progress has been made, but there is a clear shortfall of resources. We need to come up with a solution that is equal to the challenge,” Kim said.

During the meeting, World Bank Group specialists discussed with Haitian government officials and others how Bangladesh, Peru, and other countries’ success in eliminating cholera could help Haiti in its efforts.

It was also noted that despite ongoing efforts to improve water and sanitation in Haiti, the country still has the lowest coverage in the hemisphere; only 69 percent of Haitians have access to safe drinking water, and 27 percent to improved sanitation.

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