We’re proud to partner with the Pandemic Action Network on World Mask Week 2021. This social-led initiative will begin on Monday, July 12 and conclude on Sunday, July 18.
World Mask Week is a global movement to emphasize the importance of continued masking as we get closer to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and thank those who have done their part to get us here.
This year is already a deadlier year in the pandemic than 2020, but the context is different. As the pandemic continues amidst fatigue in much of the world, we are increasingly seeing a two-track pandemic where the pandemic persists in some countries and regions while others are lifting restrictions.
Haiti, one of a handful of countries that have not begun vaccination programs, is still waiting for 130,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were supposed to be delivered in June, as part of the COVAX program.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise and not under control in Haiti. With the present security situation in Haiti after President Moïse’s assassination, the rollout of the vaccine and measures to mitigate the virus are up in the air.
Wearing a mask in public, in combination with handwashing, slows the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases, especially when most Haitians can’t practice social distancing.
As variants spread around the world, we must stay focused on what keeps us safe. Help us spread mask-wearing messages by getting involved in the #WorldMaskWeek conversation on social media.
As of the beginning of May, we have seen a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout Haiti. On May 14, the Ministry of Health announced that the national laboratory discovered two new variants from Brazil and the United Kingdom that have been found in Haiti. Unfortunately, the Haitian population has not been as resistant to the new variants as it seemed to be when COVID-19 first appeared in Haiti in March 2020.
Thankfully, COVID-19 testing is becoming more available and accessible in Haiti. Hospitals have recently been overwhelmed with treating COVID-19 patients, and lack beds and oxygen, which is already not readily available in Haiti. Hospitals are having to turn down patients with less severe cases and sending them home without treatment.
Meanwhile, as cases continue to rise, Haiti’s government issued a state of emergency asking people to practice social distancing. A national curfew has been placed between the hours of 10 pm to 5 am. Social gatherings are banned, and wearing masks in public is now mandatory.
Despite all of these regulations in place, the majority of the population isn’t adhering to them, not due to a lack of desire but a lack of means. On the bright side, the Haitian government has accepted 130,000 AstraZeneca doses through COVAX that will be facilitated by the Pan American Health Organization to arrive in Haiti this month.
In addition to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Haiti’s Ministry of Health and local partners are working together to secure more doses for the country. C2C has been a big proponent of advocating for a one-dose vaccine option like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for its cost efficiency and lower risk of a dropout rate in comparison to a 2-dose vaccine option.
While the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic progressed much more slowly in Haiti than the rest of the world, it appears that a recent second wave has caused an increase in panic as cases surge, causing the government to declare a state of emergency. Haiti has had 13,735 confirmed cases and 280 deaths in total, with 111 new cases reported just yesterday.
Until now, it seemed that Haiti had been spared, as it had one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the world. There are different possible explanations for this, one of them being that Haiti’s population is fairly young with a median age of 23 years old, according to the UN World Population Ageing 2015 Report. But because COVID-19 was not the health crisis for Haiti that we expected, most Haitians do not feel that they need to get a COVID-19 vaccine. More than that, the country is currently facing major political and civil unrest that have led to high rates of unemployment, inflation, as well as increased food insecurity.
Though the total number of reported cases is widely believed to be underreported due to limited testing and reluctance to get tested or treated for COVID-19, the reality is that a second wave can overburden a weak health care system that is already fragile, similar to what is happening in India.
This is made worse by the fact that Haiti has not received a single dose of any COVID-19 vaccine. It wasn’t until recently, on May 19, that Haiti authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to immunization throughout the world. Haiti was scheduled to receive 756,000 doses of the vaccine at no cost to 20% of its population, but the government’s delay in completing the necessary steps in a timely fashion delayed shipment for months.
And while US President Biden recently took an important step in expanding global vaccine access by waiving certain intellectual property protections around COVID-19 vaccines, there are still challenges for a country like Haiti. With low COVID-19 cases and very few related deaths, the general population does not feel the need to get vaccinated. Also, with high mistrust of the government and lack of education related to COVID-19, the majority of the people are not keen on taking anything given by the government, even if it is free.
However, the vaccine should be accessible to Haitians who would like to get it, and it is the responsibility of the government to make that a priority. In a country where only 40% of children in Haiti fully receive childhood immunizations, the government must take a stand on immunization and make it a priority for its people in order to prevent diseases that are preventable and treatable by vaccination.
Even with the good news of the expected vaccines, the reality is that a two-dose vaccine option like the AstraZeneca vaccine will not be a perfect solution. Haiti’s government believes that even if they were to successfully administer a first dose, its population will not come back for a second dose. There is also the challenge of storing the vaccines, along with the logistics behind the distribution, which the government has not yet figured out. With the World Health Organization granting emergency authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it stands as a better option for Haiti. Besides the single-dose advantage, this vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for three months, not requiring freezer storage that isn’t available at most health center facilities across Haiti.
Here at C2C, along with other nongovernmental healthcare partners in Haiti, we recognize that it is our duty and privilege to support the government’s vaccine initiative. As part of our existing Public-Private Partnership with Haiti’s Ministry of Health, we stand ready to work together by providing public health and educational campaigns to inform communities of the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine, while addressing varying myths and misconceptions around it, as well as making use of our existing solar-powered fridges in our clinics to store and distribute the vaccine in order to increase access to COVID-19 vaccine coverage in Haiti.