The Deputy Secretary General of the UN and the Special Envoy for Haiti visit UNICEF’s Cholera frontline teams
Haiti, St Michel-de-l’Atalaye, November 4th 2017 – On the occasion of a three-day visit to Haiti, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General (DSG), Ms. Amina J. Mohammed and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, Ms. Josette Sheeran, visited UNICEF supported cholera and sanitation projects in the Artibonite department. Accompanied by UNICEF Representative Marc Vincent and other members of the office, the visitors came to witness an approach that combines rapid response with prevention in the fight against cholera, and which has yielded promising results over the past two years. The country is now seeing the lowest number of cases since the beginning of the epidemic in 2010. Yet much remains to be done.
According to latest DINEPA data, 72 percent of the Haitian population does not have access to adequate sanitation and 42 percent lacks adequate access to safe water while access to health care services is limited. One of the locations where access to water, sanitation and health care remains a challenge is Saint-Michel-de-l’Atalaye, one of the epidemic’s current hotspots and the destination of the field visit.
Upon arrival by helicopter, the delegation first visited a centre for the treatment of cholera and acute diarrhoea, and received a briefing from Ministry of health staff. Six patients, including two children were present showing the human face of the cholera bacteria. The visit left no doubt—one death from cholera, is one too much.
Following the treatment centre the delegation went on to observe the work of a rapid response team, managed by UNICEF partner Action against hunger. Within 48 hours after a suspected case of cholera is identified, teams decontaminate the affected household and those in its immediate vicinity, deliver emergency cholera packages—comprised of water purification tablets, ORS, and other hygiene products—and conduct sensitization/education outreach. The Special Envoy for Haiti has noted on a number of occasions, most recently with the Prime Minister of Haiti, that it is this innovative approach that has led to the dramatic reduction in the transmission of cholera. “These are the true heroes,” underlined the SE.
The visit concluded at the village of Peltam, one of the first communities to declare itself free from open-defecation. The UNICEF-supported Community Approach to Total Sanitation (ACAT), accompanies families in 16 high risk communes to eliminate open defecation. Its success is based on the commitment of the local population, especially their hygiene committee. Peltam’s hygiene committee is special – not only does it have an equal number of women and men, it also has two children as members. “I wanted to do something for our future, and the hygiene committee allows me to get things done,” explains Adziz; who just turned 14. “In a couple of years, you will be seen as heroes.” Said Ms Mohammed. “The present is hard, but if you keep up the hard work it will pay off.”
Tackling cholera requires an integrated package. Surveillance, response and prevention, all three must be in place, and their respective weight adjusted in view of the evolving situation.
“2018 offers a unique opportunity for decisive steps in the battle against cholera”, stressed UNICEF Representative Marc Vincent. Cholera transmission has dropped dramatically from over 18,000 new cases per week at the onset of the epidemic to 250 per week this year, yet eliminating cholera will require more funding
“An average of between 150 and 250 women, children and men continue to be infected every week. We can and must stop this.” It appears that all major players agree on this.
On the first day of the visit, a High-Level Cholera Committee meeting was organized. The meeting served as an occasion for the Haitian Government and the UN representatives to jointly express their determination to achieve zero transmission of cholera. They reiterated their commitment to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, including improving access to water, sanitation and healthcare.
At the conclusion of her trip, the DSG noted that “In our visit we saw community efforts by women, men and young people—some very young—who are involved in fighting cholera every day on the front lines. They are driving their own solutions, and together addressing the challenges of accessing water and sanitation. We saw this yesterday in Saint-Michel-de-l’Atalaye, where the community has empowered itself and come up with its own solutions to accessing sanitation by building toilets in many homes and in community spaces, and by supporting people who fall victim to cholera. When they succeed together, even on a small scale, it shows that they and we together can also succeed on a large scale—for all Haitians. They are the real heroes, and we must support them to end cholera in Haiti,” emphasized the DSG.
This post is also available in: French