WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has signed a declaration to join a new regional coalition on water and sanitation for the elimination of cholera in Hispaniola.
The signing took place last week during a briefing of ministers of health on the cholera epidemic in Haiti, at the headquarters of the Pan America Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington, D.C. The World Bank and the International Red Cross Federation also joined the coalition.
In signing the declaration, CARICOM has pledged to support efforts by the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to harmonize and streamline international assistance and investments in water and sanitation infrastructure aimed at eliminating cholera from the two countries.
CARICOM deputy secretary-general, Lolita Applewhaite, who signed on behalf of the Community, noted that the initiative would further consolidate the region’s efforts to address the public health challenge posed by the cholera epidemic in Haiti, following the January 2010 earthquake.
Applewhaite said the poor living conditions of over a million displaced people in Haiti has made it difficult to contain the nation’s cholera outbreak, particularly in the absence of any reliable form of potable water.
Between October 2010 and May of this year, more than half a million people became ill as a result of cholera in Haiti and more than 7,000 have died. The Dominican Republic has reported more than 21,000 cases and over 400 deaths from the disease.
PAHO reports indicate that even before the January 2010 earthquake, only 69 per cent of Haiti’s residents had access to safe drinking water. Access to sanitation had declined from 26 per cent of the population in 1990 to only 17 per cent in 2010. In the Dominican Republic, 86 per cent of the population had access to improved drinking water sources and 83 per cent had access to improved sanitation in 2010.
Applewhaite said the CARICOM Secretariat was instrumental in directing support to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiative, which targets improvement in sanitation infrastructure and sensitization of sections of the population to the importance of proper hygiene practices in combating the cholera epidemic. She said this was achieved in partnership with the government of Australia and the International Organization for Migration.
Applewhaite acknowledged the pivotal role of the international community “in the restoration of some degree of normalcy in the aftermath of the earthquake” and noted that such commitment was still necessary.
“The countries of the region of the Americas, supported by PAHO and the International Financial Institutions, turned back the 1990 cholera threat,” she said. “We have done this before and are committed to working with our partners to do it again.”
The initial members of the new coalition are the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.