STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's some of what's happening in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Health officials in Haiti, which was struck by that hurricane, have launched a massive vaccination campaign to try to slow the spread of cholera. The plan here is to try to vaccinate 800,000 people in the southwest of the country. If successful, that would be the largest emergency cholera immunization campaign ever. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Immediately after Hurricane Matthew tore across the southwest of Haiti, the number of reported cholera cases in hard-hit areas went up 10-fold. Nationwide, the number of new cases jumped from roughly 75 a day to well over 200. The Haitian Ministry of Health, working with international aid groups, plans to vaccinate almost everyone over the age of 1 in the south west of Haiti. Jean Luc Poncelet, the World Health Organization's representative in Port-au-Prince, says this campaign is going to be a challenge.
JEAN LUC PONCELET: There's still a population that is extremely difficult to reach. That will continue, unfortunately, for - for a little while because road access will remain complicated because all the roads were already bad before the hurricane.
BEAUBIEN: Normally, the cholera vaccine is given as two doses, spaced at least two weeks apart. The immunization campaign in Haiti, however, is only using a single dose due to a global shortage of vaccine. Poncelet is quick to point out that vaccination alone is not going to wipe out cholera in Haiti.
PONCELET: We are far from elimination, very - very unfortunately. When cholera enters in an area, it's extremely difficult to get rid of it.
BEAUBIEN: The disease spreads when human sewage containing the cholera bacteria contaminates drinking water supplies. The Haiti outbreak began when UN peacekeepers inadvertently introduced it onto the island in 2010. Since then, it's sickened roughly 800,000 people and killed at least 9,000 more, making this one of the largest outbreaks in modern history.
DAVID SACK: It's huge. I mean, we haven't ever seen anything quite like this.
BEAUBIEN: David Sack at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins has studied cholera for years. He says the vaccination campaign in Haiti should tamp down the outbreak, but getting rid of cholera will require huge investments in water and sewer infrastructure.
SACK: If we had modern water sanitation, of course, cholera would essentially disappear. But that's not the case in Haiti. It's not the case in many African and Asian countries.
BEAUBIEN: Cholera, he says, underscores global inequity. And he adds that it's a disease that shouldn't exist in the 21st century. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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