Haiti: $10 million Grant to Bolster Efforts Against Cholera

November 24, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, November 24, 2010 - Vowing to help stem the spread of cholera in Haiti, the World Bank has launched a two-pronged attack on the latest killer to have found its way into Haitian households.

A US$10 million emergency grant announced today will address the cholera epidemic by boosting Haiti's medical response to the disease while expanding the country's capacity to monitor and prevent such outbreaks, the World Bank said. The outbreak has already caused over 1,200 deaths and, if not contained, could kill up to 10,000 people in the coming six to 12 months, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The emergency funding is expected to be formally submitted for approval to the World Bank Board of Directors in December 2010 but Bank emergency operation procedures allow for up to 40 percent of the grant to be used to reimburse eligible expenditures already incurred as part of the emergency response.

To quickly contain cholera's deadly advance, the Bank will fund several non-profit efforts on the ground that are already providing urgent care and access to health services to cholera patients as well as preventive care to the most vulnerable Haitians.

"By boosting the efforts of NGOs already operating on the ground our response becomes much more effective and rapid than if we did it on our own," argued project leader Maryanne Sharp, while noting that the initiative is fully aligned with the government's emergency response to the epidemic known as Cholera Inter-Sector Response Strategic Plan for Haiti.

Sharp explained that a large chunk of the grant –as much as US$8 million- will go towards funding the response capacity of the largest NGOs, which are already taking up much of the health work in Haiti. "They have the setup in place to work very quickly," she added.

Reiterating that Haiti needs all the help it can get to fight the cholera outbreak, authorities have also emphasized their medium to long-term need to bolster the country's health system so it can respond adequately to emergencies. "The support of the World Bank will be key for saving lives and re-establish the public health service network," said Haiti's Finance Minister Ronald Baudin.The expert noted that these efforts will focus on helping Haiti's poorest, providing treatment and preventive actions such as access to clean water, purification tablets and latrines. Additional interventions include hygiene and food handling awareness campaigns in communities and schools where kids are already being taught about the importance of water and soap to avoid contagion. These activities will complement significant hygiene awareness and prevention efforts already underway, such as the creation of a "Public Health Brigade" to carry out cholera treatment and prevention work throughout the country.

Haiti's January 12 earthquake crippled the country's public infrastructure, killing up to 30 percent of Haiti's most senior public officials, while destroying or putting out of commission water and sanitation systems. Many of the 1.3 million people displaced by the earthquake live in temporary camps, with unsafe water and sanitation, a breeding ground for cholera.

The proposed US$10 million grant will strengthen the monitoring capacity of the Ministry of Public Health and Population and the Haitian National Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation. Specifically, this new funding will provide technical assistance to help improve the state's early warning response to outbreaks and early case detection, monitoring of incidents and management of health units.

"It is important to recognize that the health system's capacity is not as strong as we would like, so that we're prepared to create more institutional capacity within the health ministry," said Sharp.

Key to the success of these efforts is the joint response to the emergency, involving not only agencies and NGOs but, especially, the Haitians themselves, noted Sharp. Following the earthquake, the long-held Haitian tradition of community involvement has acquired a new meaning and people are very actively spreading the word on cholera, according to the expert.The World Bank has also provided assistance to the Directorate of Civil Protection since the beginning of the outbreak, in late October, to coordinate the response of the government and its partners. This assistance has supported the setup and manning of the National Emergency Operation Center and management of the national campaign 'Konbit kont Kolera' which raises awareness on cholera and its prevention.

"We are working through city councils and municipalities, but communities are proving to be particularly useful for our information campaign," said Sharp.

The cholera response grant of US$10 million is being prepared with the Haitian government and various United Nations agencies. In the aftermath of the January earthquake, World Bank is providing US$479 million in reconstruction support. Of those, US$320 million have been already used for various government-led projects, US$39 million were written off as part of Haiti's Bank debt cancellation and US$49 million from the Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, were used to support Haiti's private development.