Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cholera outbreak in Haiti is far from over

The cholera outbreak in Haiti has leveled off, but that doesn't mean it's over. There are reports of a couple of deaths outside of the first outbreak area of St Marc. Health workers are beginning to see another increase of people coming in with cholera symptoms such as diarrhea and dehydration.

We have snippets of two stories on the fears of an even wider spread of cholera in Haiti. First, from this AFP story hosted at Google News, writer Alex Ogle received the assessment from the World Heath Organization.

"We cannot say it is contained," Claire-Lise Chaignat, the World Health Organization's cholera chief, told journalists in Geneva.

"I think we haven't reached the peak," she said, recommending that Haitian authorities prepare for the "worst case scenario" -- cholera in the capital.

The acute intestinal infection is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria.

Although easily treated, it has a short incubation period -- sometimes just a few hours -- and causes acute watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not treated.

Fear of the disease is turning to anger, as Haitians begin to blame foreign aid workers and peacekeepers for the first ever outbreak of cholera in the Caribbean nation.

Rumors have swirled this week that cholera-carrying Nepalese troops with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were the source of the outbreak.

So far, the Americas' poorest country has managed to avoid the nightmare scenario of the epidemic taking hold in the unsanitary tent cities that cling to the hilly slopes of Port-au-Prince.

But worryingly for doctors, a number of the patients in the town of Arcahaie said they had drunk only treated water before falling ill.

The treated water, even though it was taken from the infected Artibonite River, is the main source of "clean" water for most of the population, and distributed by hand in small plastic bags around the town.

IPS writer Ansel Herz has the following evidence that cholera cases are already beyond St Marc and are close to Port-au-Prince.

"Affected zones are increasing. More capacities for implementation and coordination are needed" in central Haiti, according to a situation report by the St. Marc sanitation cluster of humanitarian groups. A video report by Al Jazeera English showed human waste from toilets at a Nepalese U.N. peacekeeping base running off into the river in Mirebalais, where there are over 50 confirmed cholera cases.

On Wednesday, a medical clinic operated by the charity group Samaritan's Purse in Cite Soleil reported treating a patient for "rice water diarrhea" and vomiting. The clinic's physician believes it to be cholera, according to an alert on the Haiti Epidemic Advisory System, an independent biosurveillance network.

The patient did not come from Haiti's central region, where the epidemic broke out, unlike the five cholera cases in the capital already confirmed by authorities. Cite Soleil is an impoverished slum on Port-au-Prince's northern tip, a 30- minute drive from Lafiteau. There are 20 cases in the capital under investigation, a Tuesday U.N. logistics cluster report says.

Humanitarian groups say they are promoting hygiene and educating the capital's populace about cholera, which can spread easily through contaminated water and food. Some groups distributed soap in tent camps where 1.3 million people still live exposed to the elements nine months after the January earthquake.

"Some of them do nothing because of lack of funding," according to an internal overview of humanitarian activities by the water and sanitation cluster.

Charpon Davidson, 22, received soap from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) at Camp Carradeux, where at least 20,000 people live in tents and makeshift tarps. "They can't just give us soap as a solution. There are a lot of people already carrying the disease," he said.

"If we can't drink treated water, then we'll never have a solution to this sickness," Davidson told IPS. "Because where the problem started, in Artibonite, it's water - water that people take, they drink, they eat - where the disease started." Another woman asked the reporter if cholera was a natural disease or a poison from outside the country.

No comments: