Haiti: Cholera Has Reached Port-au-Prince, Thousands Could Die

Between the devastating January earthquake, Hurricane Thomas, the cholera epidemic spreading quickly, and the very slow coming international help, Haitians are not getting any kind of  break. Even if Hurricane Thomas wasn’t strong enough to wreck the island, heavy rains and floods brought by the storm, a week ago, are now spreading the cholera epidemic quicker than Haitian authorities can deal with.

On Thursday, Haitian authorities announced the first death from cholera in Port-au-Prince, and reported so far 115 cases in the capital. The death toll for the island, according to the United Nations, has now reached 800 with about 12,000 people infected and being treated in hospitals and make shift medical facilities.

Hurricane Thomas, which killed 20 people last week-end, has considerably aggravated the epidemic situation by causing rivers, including the Artibonite river, to flood. The cholera outbreak started in the Arbonite river valley in central Haiti in mid-October. The Haitians authorities were warned by NGOs and the press to expect the worse if the epidemic spread to the capital.

On Friday, the United Nations launched an appeal to the international community to urgently raise $164 million to fight the cholera outbreak which could killed thousands people amongst the 1.3 million Haitians still leaving in tent camps. Cholera is waterborne and spread by contaminated food and water, and the lack of proper sanitation and access to clean water in the tent camps are optimal conditions for a wide outbreak. The UN expects that up to 200,000 cases of cholera will be reported over the next 6 to 12 months in Haiti.

“A major effort has already been made, but the sheer quantity of the relief items that need to be delivered in the days and weeks ahead is going to require more logistical and financial support for the government by all humanitarian agencies and donors, and very close coordination. Without this, the epidemic could well outrun our efforts,” said Nigel Fisher, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti.

On the side of the NGOs, Doctors Without Borders is stepping up its cholera response in Port-au-Prince. They have currently 400 beds for treatment of cholera cases, and are aiming at adding 600 beds by this week-end. Doctors Without Borders has currently 165 international staff members and more than 400 Haitian staff members working on cholera treatment in the island.

“We are trying to explain that cholera can kill, but at the same time it is a disease that you can treat quite easily. Cholera treatment centers where patients can be isolated are critical for effective treatment. The access points are controlled so that whomever enters or leaves is sprayed with chlorine to disinfect properly and prevent spread of infection,” said Stefano Zannini, Doctors Without Borders head of mission in Haiti. Zannini is getting increasingly concerned by the sheer numbers of people in need of treatment, and added: “Patients are coming from everywhere, thorough the city slums and even wealthy areas.”

9 months after the devastating earthquake, witch killed 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless internal refugees, the international community, after an initial outburst of charity, has failed to provide the concerted effort Haiti needed to rebuild. The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss- Khan, called for a Marshall-like plan for Haiti shortly after the January earthquake. The Marshall plan has failed to materialize, and once again Haitians feel that they are the forgotten people. Former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are co-heading a fund to help Haiti. The fund has raised $52 million so far, but it has been of very little help for the 1.5 million Haitians still living in tent cities.

Editorial Note: If you want to make a difference in Haiti, the News Junkie Post is urging you to support the efforts of Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam.


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