U.N. says cholera program jeopardized by lack of cash

The United Nations is holding a special meeting with donor countries to drum up support for its cholera treatment and control operations in Haiti. It says it has received less than half of the $175 million it needs to carry out its life-saving programs in the country.

The United Nations reports cholera cases throughout Haiti are slowly declining. But says the emergency is far from over, as the death rate in remote rural areas remains very high.

Latest figures from the Haitian government cite more than 231,000 reported cases and more than 4,500 cholera deaths since the epidemic began in October.

Health agencies say this is the first outbreak of cholera in Haiti in at least 100 years. But the agencies warn now that it is present in the country, cholera will continue to be a problem for months and years to come.

Elizabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said it is critical to strengthen treatment programs. She says the shortage of non-governmental agencies to treat the sick in difficult-to-reach mountain villages is very worrisome.

“There are two aspects of this problem,” Ms. Byrs said. “Some NGOs are working in emergency relief assistance. And, these NGOs have finished their job and now they leave. But some of them need funding, they have not even enough funding to implement their projects. That is why we urgently need the money for our appeal, which is $175 million.” NGOs are non-government organizations.

The World Health Organization says it is trying to keep the anti-cholera efforts from collapsing. The U.N. says it has received about $80 million, less than half of its appeal.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib says her agency is working with the Haitian ministry of health to replace priavte organizations that were running cholera centers. She says these vital projects are increasingly being integrated in the country’s overall health-management programs.

“There is an exit strategy put in place by World Health as the lead health organization with the ministry of health that the cholera centers can be run by the local health authorities … at the beginning, it was a new disease for the country,” Ms. Chaib said. “So, they needed really to learn how to manage it. Now, it is done. Many people know how to not get infected by cholera.”

When cholera first erupted, mortality rates were as high as 9 percent. National mortality rates are now down to 2 percent. And, spokeswoman Chaib says the World Health Organization is working to bring that rate to less than 1 percent.

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