Cholera Vaccine Campaign in Haiti Meets Opposition

Cholera patients lie on mats at a crowded hospital in Haiti. Photo by: Sophia Paris / UN

Partners in Health and nonprofit health organization Gheskio Center’s newest planned assault against the deadly cholera virus in Haiti is being met with opposition by public health experts.

The health care organizations are pushing for the use of Shanchol, a new cholera vaccine made by the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur and approved for use by the World Health Organization, to combat the disease.

Public health experts, however, cast doubts on the success of the campaign, saying it will only inoculate 1 percent of the country’s population. They also question the money to be spent on the vaccines, which would total $870,000. They believe it is best to spend the money instead on water and sanitation measures.

Partners in Health co-founder and U.N. special envoy Dr. Paul Farmer, who has been working for more than 20 years to improve public health, dismissed the health experts’ sentiments.

“It’s been a joke to focus on how much it costs,” Farmer said. “The Haitian cholera epidemic is the largest in the world.”

Meanwhile, Jon Weigel, Farmer’s researcher, countered concerns on the vaccine’s follow-up dose and offered the Gardasil vaccination program against human papillomavirus as an example. The program, which was launched in 2009 to combat cervical cancer, required three follow-up doses over a period of six months. It reached a success rate of 75 percent.

He added that efforts to develop Haiti’s water and water systems will also not be ignored.

“We’re not doing this at the exclusion of water and sanitation,” he said.

The campaign is being supported by Haiti’s new leaders — President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Garry Conille. Still, others are skeptical.

“Everybody thinks it’s going to do some good,” said Richard Garfield, a professor of public health and nursing at Columbia University. “But it’s hard to specify how much good and benefit will come out of that …”

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.