Investing in Water and Sanitation Crucial to Stem Spread of Cholera

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Health Experts today outlined concrete steps to stem the spread of cholera in Haiti.

The event, organized by the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional arm, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), said the dramatic improvements in water and sanitation services are needed to eliminate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

The health experts also urged governments and international organizations to boost investment in the infrastructure and institutional capacity required to provide water and sanitation in areas affected by the disease.

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A woman receives intravenous treatment for cholera, administered by Cuban doctors, at the hospital in L’Estere, Haiti. L’Estere is located in Haiti’s Artibonite region, the centre of the recent cholera outbreak. UN Photo/Sophia Paris

A cholera outbreak that erupted in Haiti in October last year has claimed more than 4,500 lives and nearly 300,000 people fell ill with the disease.

The cholera epidemic has been reported around Saint-Marc in the Artibonite department, far from the camps hosting hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes following the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the bacterium known as vibrio cholerae. The disease has a short incubation period and produces a toxin that causes continuous watery diarrhoea, a condition that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not administered promptly. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.

Cholera remains a challenge in countries with limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

PAHO Director Mirta Roses discussed the misconceptions surrounding the provision of water and sanitation. She said water and sanitation is seen as expensive. She emphasized that the costs of not investing in these services is much higher as evidenced by the thousands of people who have died in Haiti.

Ms. Roses stressed that the right to water and sanitation is an essential human right. She noted it is crucial for governments to strive to provide these services in every sector of society.

Ms. Roses also underscored the importance of water and sanitation as a pre-requisite for sustainable development and economic growth in any country. She warned that ignoring this right would leave countries “extremely vulnerable.”

“As we fight with climate change and the scarcity of water, it is even more important to be responsible but also to be equitable in the distribution of this precious resource.” -Ms. Roses

She stressed partnerships are also essential to fight the disease as countries shift from cholera control to cholera elimination.

The health experts also urged governments and international organizations to boost investment in the infrastructure and institutional capacity required to provide water and sanitation in areas affected by the disease.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.