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Sandy expected to lead to more cholera in Haiti, Partners in Health faces loss of funding

Cholera vaccine distribution/Photo courtesy Partners in Health.

Cholera vaccine distribution/Photo courtesy Partners in Health.

Partners in Health facilities in Haiti’s Central Plateau escaped most of the flooding experienced by other parts of the country when Hurricane Sandy blew through. But the staff of the Boston-based aid organization and their Haitian partners were preparing this week for an expected bump in cholera cases caused by the storm, even as money for cholera prevention is running low.

Funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire in February and will not be renewed, said Cate Oswald, the organization’s director of programs in Haiti.

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The outbreak that began two years ago has diminished considerably. Partners in Health treated about 300 people per month during dry periods this summer, compared with 15,000 per month during the peak in 2011, Oswald said.

Still, she said, continued prevention efforts are critical to sustain those gains. To date this year, there have been 77,000 cholera cases in Haiti and more than 550 deaths.

“Without this dedicated attention to ongoing needs for water and sanitation improvements, there is a concern,” she said. “Babies without built-in immunity will be incredibly susceptible.”

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The CDC this year contributed $2 million, about 7 percent of Partners in Health’s overall budget in Haiti, Oswald said.

“We’ve been incredibly grateful and so lucky for the funding that we’ve received, but with congressional priorities and such, the funds are just not allocated anymore,” she said.

The organization has put out an appeal to donors to contribute to the organization’s treatment and prevention efforts, which include vaccinations, distribution of chlorine tablets, education by community health workers in rural areas, and latrine building.

On Monday afternoon, as Hurricane Sandy approach the New Jersey and New York coast, Oswald said the region at least would not have to worry that the hurricane could result in a cholera outbreak in New York City, something that would be “an international catastrophe.”

That worry, she said, is a daily reality in Haiti.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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