Cuba takes lead role in Haiti’s Cholera fight

News from Cuba | Thursday, 19 January 2012

Two year’s after the earthquake which devastated Haiti in January 2010, Cuban doctors remain at the forefront of meeting the health challenges facing their caribbean neighbour.

For the last year, they have been leading the fight against cholera. Since its reappearance in the country, 15 months ago, the disease has killed more than 6,600 people and caused sickness in more than 476,000 - nearly 5 percent of the nation’s 10 million people - in what United Nations officials call the world’s highest rate of cholera. 

Writing in an article in the New York times in November, Randel C Archibold said: “As the epidemic continues, the Cuban medical mission that played an important role in detecting it presses on in Haiti, winning accolades from donors and diplomats for staying on the front lines and undertaking a broader effort to remake this country’s shattered health care system.”

Cuban doctors have worked in Haiti since 1998, when 100 arrived after a hurricane as part of Cuba’s five-decade program of establishing international medical missions.

Since the earthquake, Cuba has treated 347,601 people, performed 8,870 surgeries, delivered 1,631 babies and vaccinated 74,493 people.
With the cholera outbreak in October 2010 Cuban brigades established 44 cholera treatment units (complete with testing laboratories) and 23 cholera treatment centers. Those numbers are today at 45 and two, respectively, with another 46 cholera detection units in operation in communities.

Since then, the mission has treated more than 76,000 cases of the disease, with just 272 fatalities - a much lower ratio, at 0.36 percent, than the average across Haiti as a whole, in which 1.4 percent of cases ended in death, according to the Health Ministry.”

“There is no doubt that the Cuban mission has been vital here. It was among the largest international aid contingents to respond after the January 2010 earthquake that tumbled Haiti into crisis.” reported Archibold.
Paul Farmer, the United Nations deputy special envoy to Haiti points out that, “Half of the NGOs are already gone, and the Cubans are still there”.

“We work a lot on the education of the population,” said Dr. Lorenzo Somarriba, the chief of the Cuban medical mission. “We send people to the homes of the victims and educate them on the disease and provide them with tabs to clean the water. This is absolutely vital.” 

Today there are 786 Cuban doctors and health workers in Haiti, working with an additional 21 from Latin American countries. Since the earthquake, they have received $23 million in financial assistance from international donors, including almost $60,000 from British donations via the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

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