Picture:: REUTERS/WILLY KURNIAWAN
Picture:: REUTERS/WILLY KURNIAWAN

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, has earned another grim distinction: it’s the only one that hasn’t vaccinated a single resident against Covid-19.

One of a handful of nations worldwide still awaiting vaccines, Haiti was among the 92 poor and middle-income countries offered doses under the Covax Facility. But the government initially declined AstraZeneca shots, citing side-effects and widespread fears in the population.

“Haiti did not reject the offer of vaccines from Covax,” Ministry of Health general director Laure Adrien said. “All we asked was that they change the vaccine they were providing us.”

By last month the equation had shifted. Fears about AstraZeneca were subsiding just as Haiti was experiencing a surge in cases. When the country finally agreed to receive the doses, production issues in India and a spike in global demand made them unavailable.

The UN’s Vaccine Market Dashboard — which processes information provided by Covax — has no scheduled delivery date for Haiti, and Adrien said it is unclear when the vaccines will arrive.

Multiple maladies

The pandemic is the latest malady to befall the nation of 11.3 million people. Haiti has experienced months of protests against President Jovenel Moise and a spate of gang violence and kidnappings. Last month, a member of Médecins Sans Frontières, the non-profit organisation that runs several clinics and hospitals in Haiti, was murdered on his way home from work.

Covid-19, along with the violence, has become one more “huge obstacle” to providing basic health care, said lessandra Giudiceandrea, the organisation’s mission head.

While Haiti has reported 15,435 coronavirus cases and 325 deaths due to Covid-19, the true scope of the problem is obscured by the lack of widespread testing, she said.

“We are seeing a high mortality rate and facilities are overloaded,” Giudiceandrea said.

Dominican Republic plans border fence to keep Haitians at bay

The dearth of vaccines is all the more striking because neighbouring Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, has vaccinated almost 20% of its population.

Those vaccines are available only to Dominican citizens and documented residents, leaving most of the estimated 750,000 Haitians living there ineligible.

Father Tomas Garcia, with the Fundacion La Merced, a Dominican aid agency, said vaccinating the vulnerable, regardless of their nationality, should be a priority.

“This is not about saving yourself, this is about saving all of us,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat.”

The health ministry’s Adrien said it’s unclear which vaccines Haiti might receive first, the Covax doses or ones offered to the region last week by US President Joe Biden.

Adrien said there was an unexpected to the late arrival of the doses. Many Haitians would have declined a shot before now due to widespread hesitancy and the country is better prepared for the cold storage and distribution requirements, he said.

“I don’t think this late onset of the vaccination programme will have any impact on the recovery,” Adrien said. “If we started earlier and had a failure in our vaccine programme, it would be the same as if we started now and had our programme succeed.”

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.