Protecting Health in Haiti Amid Crisis

In today’s interconnected world, it is more critical than ever to strengthen and preserve global health systems to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks. However, despite steps taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is not yet prepared to meet future epidemic and pandemic threats. According to the 2021 Global Health Security Index, all countries remain dangerously unprepared for future epidemic and pandemic threats, and 70% lack the necessary capacity in clinics, hospitals, and community care centers. With the rise of zoonotic and drug resistant pathogens, these gaps make us all even more vulnerable.

Environmental disasters and armed conflict represent some of the biggest ongoing threats to global health security. In recent years, the already fragile health systems of Haiti have been devastated by both.

In August 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti, killing more than 2,240 people and injuring approximately 12,700 others, just one month after the country was thrown into political turmoil by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Today, Haiti continues to face armed violence and political instability that are disrupting regional public health efforts. Lack of fuel and ongoing safety concerns have prevented the deployment of healthcare workers and resources to many high-need areas, and many hospitals are closed or are operating at an extremely limited capacity.

For over ten years, the CDC Foundation has been working with our international partners to support and strengthen Haiti’s capacity to monitor and address health crises. When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing over 200,000 people and destroying Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) building, the CDC Foundation supported reconstruction of two vital MSPP health facilities and has continued working with MSPP to monitor and control disease outbreaks and establish critical health infrastructure and outreach.

The Petionville community of Port au Prince, which was heavily damaged by the 2010 earthquake

The Ministry of Public Health and Population in downtown Port au Prince which were completely destroyed in the 2010 earthquake

CDC Foundation support allowed for construction of new buildings for the Ministry of Public Health and Population

Today, reinstating Haiti’s water systems after the 2021 earthquake is a top priority. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is essential to prevent waterborne diseases, and Haiti’s current cholera outbreak reflects the urgency of this work. The CDC Foundation and our partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and MSPP are rehabilitating preexisting water and sanitation infrastructure by increasing water storage capacity, repairing handwashing stations and latrines and providing soap and critical hygiene supplies. We are also supporting education and promotion of hygiene practices in health facilities and schools.

“In the wake of the 2021 earthquake and Haiti’s ongoing insecurity, having a strong WASH infrastructure helps us reduce the risk of infection,” said Rebecca Cook, MPH, senior program officer at the CDC Foundation. “These systems improve prevention and control and better prepare us for outbreaks like cholera, COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.”

Residents in the village of Trianon, Haiti, gather water from a spring-fed water point.

Drinking water and sanitation technicians test spring water for chlorination.

Chemists work in an on-site lab in Port-au-Prince to produce chlorine bleach as part of efforts to fight cholera.

The ongoing environmental challenges and political upheaval in Haiti have also slowed national COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Despite a 2021 donation of 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, a global initiative to increase vaccination rates around the world, growing mistrust of the government and the spread of misinformation led to poor vaccination rates.

Community awareness is key. It's not particular to Haiti. It's everywhere. Get the word out. Use the appropriate channels, use their language.

To overcome these difficulties, CDC Foundation partners address misinformation and bolster vaccine confidence and awareness through risk communication, community engagement and information-sharing. From 2020-2021, Georgetown University supported Haiti’s pandemic response by gathering data on public perspectives, attitudes and beliefs related to COVID-19 infection and vaccination, subsequently increasing vaccination rates.

An MSPP sign displaying COVID-19 health measures

Community health workers provide COVID-19 vaccinations to communities

Facing limited power supply, a health worker uses his phone to fill out forms

Our partners at Fondation pour la Santé Reproductrice et l’Education Familiale (FOSREF) have built upon this work by delivering information about the safety and importance of vaccination via tv, radio, fliers and education programs. In response to rising safety concerns, FOSREF created mobile vaccine teams to increase vaccine access, especially among women and people living with HIV.

“Community awareness is key. It's not particular to Haiti. It's everywhere. Get the word out. Use the appropriate channels, use their language,” said Johane Philogène Nonez MD, MSc., technical and program director at FORSEF.

Guided by community voices, the CDC Foundation and its partners will continue to mobilize resources for emergency response and preparedness in Haiti’s health systems. As we continue our efforts to bolster health security in Haiti and around the world, we must remember that no community, district, province or nation will be truly safe and healthy until all are.

Banner Photo Credit: UNICEF Haiti/2022/Grarup

This publication is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $3,980,000 with 86.5% funded by CDC/HHS and $620,400 or 13.5% funded by non-government source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

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