Aid agencies say they are in a race against time because Haiti’s rainy season is about to begin. Not only does heavy rain bring flooding and heightened risk of disease, but it makes immunisation programmes exceptionally difficult to implement.
The ambitious project which will see an army of health workers delivering vaccines to more than 100,000 people is – almost literally – on ice. Nearly half a million dollars worth of cholera vaccine is sitting in refrigerated storage rooms waiting for public health officials to give the green light.
However, the newly-installed Haiti government supports the immunisation programme and has insisted that it will go ahead once the final bureaucratic hurdles can be cleared.
A devastating cholera outbreak in Haiti began in late 2010 in the wake of a massive earthquake earlier that year. More than half a million cases of cholera have been reported since the epidemic began and almost 7,000 people have died as a result.
Officials had earlier hoped to complete the vaccination effort before the heaviest rainfall begins this month.
The wet season can last for much of the spring and early summer and is described as a “perfect breeding ground” for disease. Houses are often flooded, leaving residents to wade through their homes, knee-deep in dirty water.
Haiti’s sanitation system is rudimentary, while its system for supplying clean water ranges from poor to non-existent. Aid workers say sanitation and clean water are the ultimate solution to controlling cholera but this kind of infrastructure cannot be rolled out overnight.
International bodies have advocated the relatively simple solution of vaccinating as many people as possible before the rains come, but even that has proven more complex than had been anticipated.
If bureaucratic roadblocks can be overcome, the logistical challenge of immunising hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks will be immense. It’s a challenge which will become more difficult when the rain starts to fall.