Support SF BayView
Donate or Subscribe to SF Bay View
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

The uses of Haiti’s poor children: Guinea pigs for cholera vaccines

November 8, 2011

by Dady Chery

A child stricken with cholera is being treated at a cholera treatment center in Carrefour.
Haiti’s Ministry of Health finally gave in and officially announced the beginning of a vaccination campaign against cholera, after one year of pressure from the United Nations’ Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the recent takeover of Haiti’s prime-ministerial position by Clinton aide and U.N. employee Garry Conille.

Cholera is eminently curable, and the cure is clean water.

If Haitians are still getting cholera at the rate of over 10,000 a month, this is because they are continuing to drink surface water from sources previously considered safe but that have become contaminated. So why are the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Paul Farmer and Partners in Health (PIH) so eager to administer vaccines to Haitians and so slow to promote waste treatment and water purification?

By contrast to MSF and PIH, 900 Cuban health experts, working out of their mobile medical units in 40 Haitian communities, are promoting disease prevention. So far, Cuban medical aid to Haiti has been vastly more successful than aid from NGOs.

As an example, consider the massive post-earthquake aid contributed by Cuba’s relatively small staff.

The relatively small Cuban-led medical brigade has also treated 30 to 40 percent of Haiti’s cholera patients.

Since the cholera vaccination campaign is quite futile, it is not surprising to find that this campaign is not a part of Cuba’s medical aid.

Unlike the diseases against which people are traditionally vaccinated, cholera is not communicable. In other words, with a minimum of good hygiene, cholera cannot be caught from casual contact with someone. According to Dr. Renaud Piarroux:

“[Cholera] can be provoked by close contact with somebody suffering from cholera, but it’s easy to protect oneself from this kind of transmission by good hygiene. This is why medical staff rarely get ill despite the fact that they have numerous contacts with people suffering from cholera.”

Tourists also don’t get cholera. Vaccines are not recommended to those entering areas where cholera is endemic because clean water and good hygiene are best, and cholera vaccines are demonstrably unreliable.

Vaccines are not recommended to those entering areas where cholera is endemic because clean water and good hygiene are best, and cholera vaccines are demonstrably unreliable.

Cholera vaccines:

• Protect only a fraction of the people who are vaccinated – usually about 60 percent.

• Typically confer protection only for a few months, since the cholera bacteria rapidly change their DNA.

Do not protect at all against strains of cholera other than those targeted by the vaccination.

Nevertheless PAHO began to promote a cholera vaccine for Haiti almost from the day the cholera epidemic hit the country in fall 2010. PAHO was supported in this by Harvard scientists with financial interests in the sale of cholera vaccines.

The same scientists also helped the U.N. to cover up the source of Haiti’s cholera for many months. Paul Farmer still enjoys considerable trust from Haitians because he founded PIH, but, like Garry Conille, he is now a U.N. employee and Clinton aide. He also hails from Harvard. He needs to explain why he is promoting these useless vaccines so much more enthusiastically than waste and water treatment.

The aim of the much-touted new vaccination campaign is to inoculate 100,000 Haitians — mostly children — with 200,000 doses of a vaccine called Shanchol, at $1.85 per dose. Development of Shanchol was financed by the Gates Foundation, and its manufacture is by an Indian company called Shantha Biotechnics.

Less than a month ago, Shantha Biotechnics still lacked the WHO approval required for U.N. agencies to buy the vaccine, because the WHO had continued to argue that cholera vaccines are unnecessary. Miraculously, Shanchol was quickly “pre-qualified” by the WHO on Sept. 29.

Less than a month ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) continued to argue that cholera vaccines are unnecessary.

Despite the claims that the vaccine will alleviate the cholera in Haiti, hardly anything is known about the effects of vaccines on endemic cholera. So this vaccination campaign is actually an experiment designed to test just this, and Haitian children will be the guinea pigs.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign will start with some of Haiti’s poorest children: those from Cite Soleil.

Hardly anything is known about the effects of vaccines on endemic cholera. So this vaccination campaign is actually an experiment designed to test just this, and Haitian children will be the guinea pigs.

Parents who agree to submit their children to this campaign will be taking a big chance. Many problems, including deaths, often result from vaccination campaigns, because vaccines are notorious for shortcomings such as contaminations of lots.

And if you think the campaign will ever end, think again. Cholera bacteria change. PAHO is already predicting 250,000 new cases of cholera in Haiti next year. Once the vaccinations begin, they will become a yearly event: another carnival.

Dady Chery grew up at the heart of an extended working-class family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She emigrated to New York when she was 14 and since then has traveled throughout the world, living in Europe and several North American cities. She writes in English, French and her native Créole and holds a doctorate. She can be reached at This story first appeared at Haiti Chery.

On Oct. 17 and 19, separate demonstrations in areas of Leogane and Port-au-Prince were held by Haitian groups against the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti known as MINUSTAH, blamed for inadvertently starting a cholera outbreak that has killed over 6,500 people in the past year. Of course, because neither protest resulted in any tear gas or violence, they were almost entirely ignored by the international press. – Video: Yvon Vilius and Ansel Herz, Media Hacker


2 thoughts on “The uses of Haiti’s poor children: Guinea pigs for cholera vaccines

  1. Steve Heilig


    I picked up your paper on the street, and was dismayed to read the very misleading reprinted article about cholera vaccines ("Haiti’s poor children: Guinea pigs for cholera vaccines"). Ironically, on your website, Partners in Health is listed at the top as a worthy place to donate to help Haiti. I hope the article full of misinformation, unsubstantiated allegations, and paranoia does not dissuade anybody from helping PIH, a very fine organization led by a true hero, Dr. Paul Farmer. But your article implies, with zero evidence, that he is somehow corrupt.

    As a public health professional with beloved Haitians in my extended family, I certainly agree Haiti should have, could have, and still can be helped in better and stronger ways than it has been to date. Regarding cholera, clean water is not the "cure" for this awful disease, although it is indeed the preferred preventive measure, and crucially needed. But that's not all that can be done. No vaccine is perfect; but "herd immunity" is important in slowing and stopping a communicable disease from spreading. Even an imperfect vaccine is far from "useless", as the World Health Association notes:

    The author of your article seems to be blinded by ideology, and when I showed her article to a Haitian friend here in San Francisco, she exclaimed "How can they print such nonsense?" Sadly, I wonder that too.

    1. Dady Chery

      Actually, the title here is slightly changed from the original, which was "The Uses of Haiti's Poor Children: Guinea Pigs for Cholera Vaccines." And if you think the "The Uses of Haiti" part of it was a direct dig at Paul Farmer: it was, and I stand by it.

      I don't engage in much hero worship nor do I recommend it. The problem with heroes is that they can change.

      I am also not impressed by name calling. Please point exactly to what you think are the misinformation and allegations in the article, and I will reply directly and completely to your arguments.

      Cholera is not like the flu. It is not communicable. The recommendations of vaccines for Haiti's cholera victims are misleading. This promotion of vaccines serves the interest of individuals who have financial investments in such vaccines. I have treated this in detail in an earlier article titled "Why It Took Eleven Months Instead of Three Weeks to Show that Haiti's Cholera is Nepalese" for which you will find a link at the bottom of the article here.

      PAHO itself is so convinced of the uselessness of the vaccines that it is already preparing the public for 250,000 more cases of cholera next year!

      Cholera is best prevented with clean drinking water (as is expected from the tourists and health workers) and, if caught, is best cured with rehydration (again with clean water) and salts. These are the main approaches used by the Cuban health brigades, who have successfully treated many more Haitian cholera victims while managing with much less than the NGOs and PAHO. Antibiotics are ill advised for cholera, except in extreme cases, because the antibiotics cause resistant strains of cholera to emerge.

      Even if cholera could be avoided with vaccines (which it cannot), are Haitians indefinitely expected to drink water that is contaminated with the feces of foreigners? Consider discussing this with your Haitian friends and extended family.


Leave a Reply

BayView Classifieds - ads, opportunities, announcements