Mosquito-borne diseases under attack in Haiti, Dominican Republic

By Emily Staub | The Carter Center | April 19, 2012

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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter holds a feverish child after the child was tested for malaria during a 2009 Carter Center delegation visit to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of The Carter Center/ P. DiCampo.

Efforts to eliminate two mosquito-borne diseases – malaria and lymphatic filariasis – in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are ongoing, with the first of four meetings on the issue this year held in Santo Domingo in March.

Participants were from the technical teams of the National Center for Tropical Disease Control, the Dominican Republic's Ministry of Health and the National Malaria Control Program of the Haitian Ministry of Health. Also participating were experts from The Carter Center, The Panamerican Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hispaniola is the only island in the Caribbean where malaria is endemic, and it also contains more than 90 percent of all lymphatic filariasis cases in the Americas. Both diseases are much more frequent in Haiti than in the Dominican Republic. Public health officials remain concerned that the loss of lives and damage to infrastructure and government resources, brought on by the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti, may have increased the prevalence of malaria and lymphatic filariasis, as well as other health problems.

Malaria and lymphatic filariasis also affect the economy, since both diseases are caused by poverty, and create even more poverty.

"It's exciting that cooperative elimination efforts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which were suspended following the earthquake, are now being resumed," says former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose center has provided technical support for the 10-year plan to eliminate malaria and lymphatic filariasis on the island of Hispaniola .

A delegation that included Carter traveled to the border area and capitols of both nations in October 2009 to help promote the launch of the plan and build on earlier technical and financial support provided by The Carter Center.

"We are taking this opportunity, during the reconstruction of Haiti, to be more emphatic regarding decisions, actions and funding to create a future free of two crippling but preventable neglected diseases, that keep us shackled in cycles of poverty," says Marie Denise Milord, binational coordinator. "That's what the Dominican and Haitian experts are doing here today—protecting our future."

Following the earthquake, experts see an opportunity to promote the elimination of these two diseases, with a high impact on reconstruction activities, and urge the international community to support the elimination strategy as part of the recovery strategy in Haiti. Since February, for the first time in its history, Haiti has extended mass drug administration to all lymphatic filariasis-affected areas.

"Disease knows no borders, especially in today's global community. We all have a stake in supporting Haiti and the Dominican Republic's goal of completely eliminating these diseases, not merely controlling them. More importantly it is the ethical, humanitarian thing to do," says Donald R. Hopkins, ITFDE chair and vice president for health programs at The Carter Center.

The Carter Center is not-for-profit organization founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University.