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Issue #1540      21 March 2012

Cuban medicine preventing spread of cholera in the Americas

HAVANA: There are no deaths from cholera in Haiti at the present time, thanks to the work of Cuban medical personnel, who have also contributed to preventing the spread of this disease in the Americas, affirmed Lorenzo Somarriba, head of the Cuban Medical Mission in Haiti. He was speaking during a workshop in Havana sponsored by the Latin American Disaster Medicine Centre (CLAMED).

He added, “In the most acute months of the disease our personnel attended to 46% of cholera patients, with a low death rate of 0.36%, and, together with other actors, avoided the disease extending beyond Haiti’s borders.” Dr Somarriba noted that during the Peruvian cholera epidemic in 1991, the disease affected 20 countries in the Americas.

He recalled that in response to the UN call for aid, Cuba sent to Haiti a total of 1,349 doctors, nurses and other health personnel, members of the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialising in Situations of Disaster and Serious Epidemics, who took no respite in their efforts to save the lives of men, women and children.

“This group had the valuable support of more than 100 doctors graduated from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, whose members come from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United States, Uruguay, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.”

Among the lessons learned from the cholera epidemic in Haiti, Somarriba noted the effective work of the 50 active monitoring groups created by the Cuban Medical Brigade who, in just over 12 months, visited a total of 3.2 million Haitians living in poor and remote communes, which saved the lives of 5,516 persons with cholera, who would have died without swift medical attention.

He also emphasised the importance of an epidemiological vigilance system and information on the detection and follow up of the disease, the training of all medical personnel in clinical diagnosis and therapy, the creation of isolation areas for treating cholera, and control of infection sources, all of which were measures implemented by the Cuban health personnel and contributed to the regression of cholera in Haiti, currently in the endemic phase.

A total of 522,300 people became infected with the cholera virus in Haiti, the poorest country in the region, resulting in the death of more than 7,000 from the disease.

Dr Rosa María Avalo, an international sanitary control official from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health’s National Epidemiological Office, stated that in spite of Haiti being Cuba’s close neighbour, there are no reported cases of the disease, due to the fact that health authorities implemented a strict national plan to prevent its entry, with special attention to airports, ports and marinas.

She noted that in 2011 there were outbreaks and sporadic cases of cholera in 25 of the 46 African nations, including Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Somalia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as in Asian, Pacific and Eastern European countries.

“In the African region alone, more than 105,200 people were infected, of whom 2,912 died.

This 2nd Cholera Workshop discussed 30 scientific papers, including two master lectures, which contributed to improving knowledge about a disease which primarily affects underdeveloped countries in the Third World.


Next article – US-Korea free trade agreement

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