Haiti's Cholera Epidemic Unabated

by Rathi Manohar on  November 23, 2010 at 11:01 PM Tropical Disease News
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Haiti's cholera epidemic showed no sign of abating Monday after the toll rose to 1,250, stirring debate over whether to delay looming presidential elections until the outbreak is under control.
 Haiti's Cholera Epidemic Unabated
Haiti's Cholera Epidemic Unabated

As aid groups ramped up work in the wake of deadly riots that have hampered the anti-cholera battle, the United Nations said the global community had lagged since the epidemic began in October and called for more financial aid.

"The number of focal points of infection are increasing, and those that appeared a month ago are not extinguished," said French doctor Gerard Chevallier, a cholera specialist advising Haiti's health ministry.

"There were about 20 communities at the beginning of the cholera (outbreak), and there are now about 50 to 100 communities affected," he told AFP.

Among them is the teeming capital Port-au-Prince, where authorities have now recorded 64 deaths from the water-borne disease, including 20 children under age five.

So far the capital's squalid tent cities -- where several hundred thousand survivors of Haiti's devastating January earthquake live in appalling conditions -- have been spared.

Despite the brewing health disaster and calls from four underdog presidential candidates to postpone the November 28 vote, Haiti's election campaign is in full swing.

Colorful campaign posters adorn ramshackle walls in remote villages and on Sunday residents lined up in Petionville, a suburb of the capital, to obtain identity cards to vote for the successor to President Rene Preval.

One of the front-runners, businessman Charles Henri Baker, told AFP he opposed a delay -- and hinted at frustration with how authorities have handled the outbreak.

"Cholera will be here for 10 years," Baker said. "The sooner we change the government, the sooner we can take action against the epidemic."

Haiti's health ministry said that of 52,715 total recorded cases, 20,687 had been treated in hospitals, the majority of whom were given rehydration treatments and released.

But some experts and residents fear the epidemic is being underestimated, with vast areas of the country still not reached by health authorities tracking the outbreak.

In the northern city of Hinche, the manager at a cholera treatment center, where the dead were being laid out on the front lawn, said he feared the outbreak was worsening.

"It is changing in a negative way," Prince Pierre Soncon said, confirming four deaths at the center on Saturday alone.

"At the beginning of the epidemic there were three cases per day, then 15, then 35. This morning, we had already seen 60."

Hinche is patrolled by UN troops from Nepal, but some local residents have accused the UN soldiers of spreading the disease. As a result, six peacekeepers were injured last Monday when about 400 angry demonstrators pelted them with rocks.

Though tensions have eased in recent days, but another demonstration was planned in Hinche for this Monday, residents said.

A senior UN official on Saturday expressed disappointment with the international response to its appeal for 164 million dollars to help Haiti combat the epidemic.

"So far we only have received less than 10 percent of what we need," said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher.

"Critical supplies and skills are urgently needed," he added. "We need doctors, nurses, water purification systems, chlorine tablets, soap, oral rehydration salts, tents for cholera treatment centers and a range of other supplies."

The UN Cholera Response Plan, for which the 164 million are sought, focuses on improving the quality of drinking water, sanitation and on public information to help prevent the spread of the disease.

The response has been slowed by violence in Cap-Haitien, where riots have targeted UN peacekeepers blamed for importing Haiti's first cholera outbreak in more than 50 years.

Meanwhile, three cases have been found in the neighboring Dominican Republic, including a newborn baby and her grandmother in the capital Santo Domingo -- who have never been to Haiti.

Two cases have appeared in the US state of Florida -- both from people who traveled from Haiti.

The cholera outbreak is bringing new chaos to Haiti after its capital was ravaged in a January quake that killed 250,000 people.

Source: AFP

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