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Haiti: UN urges investing in water and sanitation services to combat cholera

Article / Review by on January 11, 2012 – 10:09 pmNo Comments

Haiti: UN urges investing in water and sanitation services to combat cholera

Women carry jerry cans of chlorinated water which is being used to contain cholera in eastern DRC. Photo: IRIN/Tiggy RidleyWomen carry jerry cans of chlorinated water which is being used to contain cholera in eastern DRC. Photo: IRIN/Tiggy Ridley

Dramatic improvements in water and sanitation services are needed to eliminate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, health experts who took part in a United Nations-organized briefing to outline concrete steps to stem the spread of the disease in the region said today.

The event, organized by the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional arm, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), 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.

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.

On the eve of the second anniversary of the terrible earthquake that devastated our country, marked progress has been made toward reconstruction, but much remains to be done.

While cholera no longer poses a threat to countries with high standards of hygiene, it 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, mainly that it is seen as expensive, and 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 since the cholera outbreak in October 2010, ten months after it was hit by a devastating earthquake.

Ms. Roses stressed that the right to water and sanitation is an essential human right, making it 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, and warned that ignoring this 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 said, adding that partnerships are also essential to fight the disease as countries shift from cholera control to cholera elimination.

Kevin De Cock, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Center for Global Health, echoed Ms. Roses remarks, stressing the role of the infrastructure in preventing the spread of cholera.

He warned that even though fatality rates have decreased because of effective treatment, “there are still 100 to 200 cholera cases daily in Haiti, and we expect surges with the onset of the rainy season.”

Mr. De Cock said that for Haiti to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global development targets with a 2015 deadline, some 250,000 households will need improved water sources, and another 938,000 will require access to improved sanitation.

The Chief of Water Sanitation for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Sanjay Wijesekera, argued that in addition to investing in infrastructure, an effective strategy that takes into account the various forms of transmissions is needed, as well as education to encourage behavioural change in communities.

Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly joined the event via video link and reiterated his Government’s commitment to tackle the disease. “On the eve of the second anniversary of the terrible earthquake that devastated our country, marked progress has been made toward reconstruction, but much remains to be done,” he said.

“Safe drinking water and adequate sanitary facilities are the right of every Haitian. Only a joint, comprehensive strategic approach can help us eliminate cholera, which has stricken half a million Haitians and killed thousands.”

The President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández stressed his Government’s willingness to collaborate with Haiti through vaccination programmes and control strategies.

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About World Health Organization (WHO)

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

World Health Organization (WHO)

In the 21st century, health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defence against transnational threats.

WHO fulfils its objectives through its core functions:

  • providing leadership on matters critical to health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed;
  • shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge;
  • setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation;
  • articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options;
  • providing technical support, catalysing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity
  • monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends.

The WHO agenda

WHO operates in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing landscape. The boundaries of public health action have become blurred, extending into other sectors that influence health opportunities and outcomes. WHO responds to these challenges using a six-point agenda. The six points address two health objectives, two strategic needs, and two operational approaches. The overall performance of WHO will be measured by the impact of its work on women’s health and health in Africa.

1. Promoting development

During the past decade, health has achieved unprecedented prominence as a key driver of socioeconomic progress, and more resources than ever are being invested in health. Yet poverty continues to contribute to poor health, and poor health anchors large populations in poverty. Health development is directed by the ethical principle of equity: Access to life-saving or health-promoting interventions should not be denied for unfair reasons, including those with economic or social roots. Commitment to this principle ensures that WHO activities aimed at health development give priority to health outcomes in poor, disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. Attainment of the health-related Millennium Development Goals, preventing and treating chronic diseases and addressing the neglected tropical diseases are the cornerstones of the health and development agenda.

2. Fostering health security

Shared vulnerability to health security threats demands collective action. One of the greatest threats to international health security arises from outbreaks of emerging and epidemic-prone diseases. Such outbreaks are occurring in increasing numbers, fuelled by such factors as rapid urbanization, environmental mismanagement, the way food is produced and traded, and the way antibiotics are used and misused. The world’s ability to defend itself collectively against outbreaks has been strengthened since June 2007, when the revised International Health Regulations came into force.

3. Strengthening health systems

For health improvement to operate as a poverty-reduction strategy, health services must reach poor and underserved populations. Health systems in many parts of the world are unable to do so, making the strengthening of health systems a high priority for WHO. Areas being addressed include the provision of adequate numbers of appropriately trained staff, sufficient financing, suitable systems for collecting vital statistics, and access to appropriate technology including essential drugs.

4. Harnessing research, information and evidence

Evidence provides the foundation for setting priorities, defining strategies, and measuring results. WHO generates authoritative health information, in consultation with leading experts, to set norms and standards, articulate evidence-based policy options and monitor the evolving global heath situation.

5. Enhancing partnerships

WHO carries out its work with the support and collaboration of many partners, including UN agencies and other international organizations, donors, civil society and the private sector. WHO uses the strategic power of evidence to encourage partners implementing programmes within countries to align their activities with best technical guidelines and practices, as well as with the priorities established by countries.

6. Improving performance

WHO participates in ongoing reforms aimed at improving its efficiency and effectiveness, both at the international level and within countries. WHO aims to ensure that its strongest asset – its staff – works in an environment that is motivating and rewarding. WHO plans its budget and activities through results-based management, with clear expected results to measure performance at country, regional and international levels.

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About United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) logo

UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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> United Nations (UN).

The General Assembly in session. Photo credit: UN / Eskinder Debebe The United Nations was established on 24 October 1945 by 51 countries committed to preserving peace through international cooperation and collective security. Today, nearly every nation in the world belongs to the UN: membership totals 192 countries.

When States become Members of the United Nations, they agree to accept the obligations of the UN Charter, an international treaty that sets out basic principles of international relations. According to the Charter, the UN has four purposes:

  • to maintain international peace and security;
  • to develop friendly relations among nations;
  • to cooperate in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights;
  • and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations.

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by United Nations (UN)
** More information at United Nations (UN)

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