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Inspiring Partnerships: Protecting Against Cholera in Thailand

July 22, 2013

Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Thailand and a France-based relief group called PU-AMI joined together to vaccinate 36,000 displaced persons against cholera in north Thailand.  This area had been experiencing cholera outbreaks regularly every two years for the last nine years.  The cholera outbreaks were debilitating as the hospital and health centers were overwhelmed with the constant stream of patients that didn’t stop despite targeted health education and attempts to bring in clean water.  A new safe and efficacious cholera vaccine had been approved for use in late 2011 by the World Health Organization and the three groups decided it was time to tackle this problem with this new tool.

The Thailand MoH was pivotal in showing interest and wherewithal to use the vaccine and they worked with the Ministry of the Interior to work in the area. The MoH want to learn from this experience to benefit others at risk of cholera.  PU-AMI has provided health care in the camp for many years and hasthe trust of the local population.  And CDC has strong technical and statistical expertise to help evaluate the campaign.  It was a good fit.

I am not going to focus on the campaign which was extremely well organized and provided benefit not only to the residents of the area but also will provide public health knowledge that will benefit communities affected by cholera around the globe. I want to focus on the partnership. 

Three groups, all with one goal in mind but with different organizational outlooks, priorities and ways of working all managed to make the planning and implementation process seem seamless.  They met monthly if not more to prepare for the campaign.  They hammered through hard conversations on how to make the campaign work – details around how to communicate to residents, how to store the vaccine, and how to measure the results.  They worked through incredibly detailed logistical details despite language and cultural differences (French, Thai, English).  During this time, they somehow managed to always keep the one end goal in mind: to protect the residents against cholera.

It is so easy sometimes to lose ourselves in the weeds and forget the larger goal…easy to continue to argue over small details that won’t really make a difference in outcomes.  I know from experience how incredibly hard it is to work in partnership and how quickly we can take offense if projects are not moving forward as planned. I want to commend the MoH Thailand, the CDC, and PU-AMI for modeling what can be done in a true partnership.  Bravo!

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