Wednesday, December 12, 2012

UN Web Broadcast on Cholera (from CHAN/Roger Annis)

December 11, 2012

Today at the United Nations in New York City was the launch of "The Secretary-General’s Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti." You can watch the 18-minute announcement on UN Web TV, consisting of remarks by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, and the minister of health of the Dominican Republic (there is silence until the three-minute mark of the broadcast):

The Secretary-General said that $215 million in new funding is pledged to the Initiative. He also announced that Dr. Paul Farmer has accepted to serve as the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on cholera treatment and prevention.

No mention of the United Nations MINUSTAH military mission in Haiti as being the source of the cholera epidemic was made throughout the formal proceedings, nor was there any mention of the legal action against the UN demanding compensation for the victims of cholera and a rapid program to build clean water infrastructure throughout the country. Nospecific mention was made of the Haitian and international agencies that have been heroically battling the cholera epidemic over the past fourteen months, excepting a brief mention by the minister of health of the DR regarding Cuba's medical brigade in Haiti. The Secretary General spoke more of cholera vaccine than of clean water supply and sanitation systems in the fight against cholera.

Prime Minister Lamothe spoke for four minutes. He gave thanks to governments and agencies in Haiti assisting with cholera treatment. He said that his government has a two-year plan to fight cholera that it estimates to cost "about" $600 million. He said that the $215 million pledged by the Secretary-General plus another $23 million from an existing commitment is the financial head start of his government's plan. "We have to work together to bridge the remaining gap," he said.

statement by the Pan-American Health Organization on January 12, 2012, the two-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, said that improvements to sanitation and clean water supply in Haiti and the Dominican republic were "absolutely essential." It estimated those costs as "$746 million to $1.1 billion," citing as sources the Inter-American Development Bank, Office of the Haitian Primer Minister and World Bank).

PAHO statement on June 29, 2012 announced, "Representatives of international and civil society organizations today agreed to promote major investments in water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as the long-term solution to the cholera epidemic in those countries." No details nor fund amounts were reported.

There was no further detail today of the precise figures of expenditure in the two countries for cholera treatment and prevention, nor any explanation of why such an "absolutely essential" program of public health is being announced yet gain with incomplete details of funding pleges, amounts and overall strategy.

The prime minister said that his government's policy of encouraging foreign investment in factory investment is a key to improving Haiti's social and public health conditions. A cholera prevention program, he said, will be an important "job creation" program.

At the end of the 18-minute ceremony, it was announced that Nigel Fisher would speak to media in a separate room. There is apparently no webcast of this proceeding.

If you have not already done so, please sign the international petition on Avaaz, initiated by film director Oliver Stone and others, urging the UN Secretary-Generalto respond to Haitian calls, including legal action, for a robust program of cholera treatment and preventionand compensation for the victims of the epidemic. Read and sign the petition here.

--Roger Annis

UN launches new initiative to eliminate cholera in Haiti and Dominican Republic

UN News Center, December 11, 2012

11 December 2012 – The United Nations today announced a new initiative to help eliminate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the two nations that make up the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

“The new initiative will invest in prevention, treatment, and education – it will take a holistic approach to tackling the cholera challenge,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the initiative’s launch. “The main focus is on the extension of clean drinking water and sanitation systems – but we are also determined to save lives now through the use of an oral cholera vaccine.”

“Because global vaccines are in short supply, we will first target high-risk areas: densely populated urban areas and rural areas far removed from health services,” he added. “As production increases, the vaccine effort will expand its reach.”

Launched at UN Headquarters in New York in the presence of government officials (sic) from the two countries, the new initiative will support an existing campaign – known as the Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in the Island of Hispaniola – established almost a year ago by the Presidents of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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.

In his remarks at the launch, the Secretary-General noted that in Haiti the disease has claimed the lives of more than 7,750 people, infected over 620,000, and added more suffering to a country already recovering from a major earthquake in 2010, the largest natural disaster in the history of the western hemisphere.

Ten months after the earthquake, the Caribbean nation experienced a major cholera outbreak.

The United Nations and its partners have been working with the Haitian authorities to respond to the outbreak, with a focus on water and sanitation facilities, as well as on training, logistics and early warning.

“Haiti has seen a dramatic fall in infection and fatality rates. But this will not be a short-term crisis,” Mr. Ban said. “Eliminating cholera from Haiti will continue to require the full cooperation and support of the international community.”

The UN chief said resources will be critical, with Haiti needing almost $500 million over the next two years to carry out its national implementation plan for the disease.

Noting that the relevant humanitarian appeals are less than half-funded, Mr. Ban said he will “use every opportunity” in the months ahead to mobilize more funding.

“Today I am pleased to announce that $215 million in existing funds from bilateral and multilateral donors will be used to support the initiative. I thank the donor community for this generous commitment,” Mr. Ban said. “The United Nations will do its part. We are committing $23.5 million, building on the $118 million the UN system has spent on the cholera response to date.”

He added that the United Nations will also continue to support the Government of Haiti in tracking cholera spending and ensure the effective use of resources.

“Today, as ever, we are in Haiti for one reason alone: to help the Haitian people make their great country all that it can be. We know the elimination of cholera is possible. Science tells us it can be done. It has happened in difficult environments around the world. It can and will happen in Haiti,” the Secretary-General added.

At the launch, the Secretary-General also announced that a world-renowned humanitarian, Dr. Paul Farmer, will serve as his Special Adviser focusing on community-based medicine and on drawing lessons from Haiti that can be applied to other places in need.

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