* Vaccination campaign to target 100,000 people
* 7,400 deaths from cholera in Haiti, Dominican Republic since 2010
* Cholera epidemic said under control as rainy season begins
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, April 14 (Reuters) - The Haitian government along with international partners including the World Health Organization launched a vaccination campaign against cholera on Saturday targeting 100,000 people in vulnerable areas of the impoverished Caribbean country.
The program was launched in the slum area of Cite de Dieu, in the Haitian capital, where health practitioners are going door-to-door to deliver doses to pre-registered recipients.
“I am very happy that I received the vaccine because now I will live my life with less anxiety,” Mariane Joseph told Reuters, after drinking the dose. “I have been waiting for this vaccine for a long time because we are exposed here to catching cholera.”
More than 7,000 Haitians have died of cholera since an epidemic broke out in 2010.
The Director-General of the Health department, Dr. Gabriel Thimote, said the 100,000 beneficiaries in two regions in the west and northern Artibonite region will receive two doses of the vaccine, called Shanchol, that will protect them for period of two to three years, with an efficiency rate of about 65 percent, health officials say.
“It is a pilot program that we are launching in two areas in the country but it will be later extended to the rest of the population with a priority for areas at risk,” Thimote told Reuters.
In the capital, the program is being implemented by the Gheskio Center, a Haitian health NGO that specializes in fighting the AIDS virus and other infectious diseases, while another international NGO, Partners In Health, led by the U.N. deputy special envoy for Haiti, Dr. Paul Farmer, has been designated to carry out the vaccination program in Bokozel, near the northern town of St-Marc.
The Haitian health Minister, Florence Duperval Guillaume, rejected allegations that the vaccine is an experimental one that could have side effects on recipients. The vaccination program was delayed several weeks after some critics suggested the campaign was a research project to test new, unapproved drugs.
“This is vaccine that has already been certified by the World Health Organization, and our campaign has nothing to do with an experimentation that could have recipients running risks,” Guillaume said. “People have nothing to fear,” she added.
The number of cases of cholera has increased slightly in Haiti over the past few weeks, with frequent torrential rains spreading the bacteria in several areas where health official had brought the disease under control.
The Western Hemisphere’s only cholera epidemic has infected nearly 550,000 and killed 7,400 people in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic since October 2010, nearly all of them in Haiti, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Cases of cholera first emerged in central Haiti’s Artibonite River region, possibly as a result of poor sanitary conditions at a U.N. base of peace keepers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic.
Health workers continue to see 100-200 new cases per day but warn the daily rate could surge to 1,000 during the rainy season.
Cholera is an infection that causes severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and death. It occurs in places with poor sanitation and can be treated by drinking clean fluids.
Editing by David Adams and Philip Barbara