Saturday, December 11, 2010

WHO considers cholera vaccinations in Haiti

The World Health Organization is now looking into vaccinating people in Haiti to ward off cholera. If they begin the WHO will have to solve the problems of buying more vaccines as well as transportation and distribution issues.

From the New York Times, writer Donald G. McNeil Jr. examines the possible switch in strategy.

So far, the cholera vaccine has seen little use in Haiti, where the disease has killed more than 2,000 people and is still spreading. However, major obstacles remain, including supply shortages, transportation problems and the need to administer the vaccine several times for it to be effective.

But the Pan American Health Organization, which represents the W.H.O. in the Western Hemisphere, recently learned that there might be one million to two million doses of vaccine in the world, not just the 200,000 it originally thought, Dr. Jon K. Andrus, the Pan American organization’s deputy director, said Friday. “We recognize that it’s time to rethink our position,” he said. “We don’t want to miss an opportunity.”

His organization will hold a meeting of experts in Washington next Friday to consider whether to buy those doses and move them to Haiti.

Even if the group agrees to move forward, there would be no quick fix. Most of the doses are in bulk form, and it could take up to two months to have them ready, Dr. Andrus said. Also, the vaccines have not been tested by the W.H.O.

Also on Friday, Dr. Paul Farmer, who is well known for fighting AIDS in Haiti, endorsed broader use of the vaccine there, and called for creating emergency stockpiles of millions of doses to keep cholera from spreading to other countries.

He endorsed measures like searching Haiti’s central mountains for people too sick to reach clinics, using antibiotics even in moderate cases and rebuilding the water and sanitation networks shattered by January’s earthquake.

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