WHO to request cholera vaccines for Haiti, expects further spread

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A World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson said on Tuesday it was setting up tents to treat cholera in Haiti and would also request the supply of oral vaccines against the disease, which has unexpectedly returned to a country paralysed by a gang blockade.

The disease killed some 10,000 people through a 2010 outbreak that has been blamed on a United Nations peacekeeping force that was stationed in Haiti. The UN in 2016 apologized for the outbreak, without taking responsibility. The last case was reported three years ago.

The country has so far reported at least seven deaths and the WHO warned that some early cases may have gone undetected, with more expected to emerge.

“It’s very important now to get assistance on the ground as soon as possible,” Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva press briefing, describing a “difficult cocktail” of circumstances around the disease’s spread, with cases emerging in gang-controlled areas where access to testing or treatment is severely hampered.

“With the humanitarian situation and sanitary situation what it is and the gang-controlled areas where there’s hardly any access to control, to test or even to bring in assistance, we should expect unfortunately, cases to be higher and to rise,” he said.

Already, some hospitals are beginning to close due to fuel shortages and lack of access for staff, Lindmeier added.

WHO and partners are setting up cholera treatment centres in tents and supplying them with medicines and equipment, he said.

A request was being prepared for oral vaccines for the country. WHO maintains an emergency stockpile of cholera vaccines.

Cases of the disease, which causes uncontrollable diarrhea, are surging globally and there will not be enough vaccines to cover the growing number of cases, a WHO official said last week.