Cholera and Health Inequity in Latin America and the Caribbean discussed on Capitol Hill

Photo by Olivier Asselin

Photo by Olivier Asselin

By Raquel Corona-Parra

Health issues in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) were featured on Capitol Hill last week during two briefing sessions discussing the regional inequities in health and the cholera epidemic in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Tackling Health Inequity in Latin America

Public Health in Latin America,” was hosted by Representative Sam Farr of California on Wednesday, October 23rd as part of an ongoing monthly briefing series called “Latin America on the Rise.” The series features a diverse group of speakers responsible for addressing emerging and emergent issues in the Western Hemisphere.

Dr. Carissa Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said despite health achievements in the region, such as the elimination of polio and small pox and the recent WHO verification of onchocerciasis elimination in Colombia, the region remains characterized by significant health inequities.

“Despite the progress, the region is characterized by large differences in the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. This inequity among and within countries not only threatens the public’s health, it threatens human rights, economic prosperity, sustainable development, and stability throughout the region.”

Amanda Glassman, Director of Global Health Policy and Senior Fellow at the Salud Mesoamerica 2015 Initiative (a collaboration between the Carlos Slim Health Institute, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank). However, more needs to be done, and she called on the government of the United States to increase its involvement with these issues in a framework of cooperation.

Conquering Cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

The event on Thursday October 24th, titled Conquering Cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic: The Untold Story of Progress, provided members of Congress, their staff and partners in health issues an update on the status of the control efforts of the cholera epidemic on the Island of Hispaniola.

The cholera outbreak in Haiti and the Dominican Republic began in late 2010 – just a few months after the catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti. Prior to this outbreak, cholera had not been reported in Haiti for more than 100 years. Around 715,000 people have gotten sick from the disease and more than 8,000 deaths have been attributed to the epidemic – with cases spreading to Cuba and Mexico.

Dr. Carissa Etienne stressed that although the oral cholera vaccine has helped, improvements in water and sanitation are essential for the epidemic to be stopped.

The event was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Karen A. Goraleski, Executive Director of the WASH Advocates).

As a response to the epidemic, several initiatives and programs were formed to tackle disease surveillance, food safety and access to clean water and sanitation throughout the region. For example, the 17% had access to sanitation in 2010.

These improvements in the infrastructure will also help reduce and eliminate other infectious diseases such as lymphatic filariasis (LF). LF, or elephantiasis, is a debilitating disease that is spread by mosquitoes and causes extreme swelling of the extremities. A group of Global Network partners are making significant progress in LF control and elimination efforts in Haiti. The partnership includes the Haitian government, the CDC, CBM, IMA World Health, the University of Notre Dame and the Envision Project, managed by RTI International and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. We believe it is partnerships like these – which are focusing on controlling and eliminating pervasive diseases of poverty like LF and cholera – that are enabling entire communities to break the cycle of poverty and disease.

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