Monday, October 25, 2010

The latest on the Haitian cholera outbreak

Aid workers and the Haitian government are working to prevent the cholera outbreak in St Marc from spreading. There are new fears that the disease might enter the Haitian capital and the many people that still live in the tent camps.

Five people died from cholera within the city limits of Port-au-Prince. Government officials however say  that the five were stricken with the disease while out of town.

The death toll from the cholera outbreak reached 250 over the weekend.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Winnipeg Free Press, writer Jacob Kushner gives us the latest.

"It's not difficult to prevent the spread to Port-au-Prince. We can prevent it," said Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee. He said tightly limiting movement of patients and careful disposal of bodies can stave off a major medical disaster.

If efforts to keep cholera out of the camps fail, "The worst case would be that we have hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time," said Claude Surena, president of the Haiti Medical Association. Cholera can cause vomiting and diarrhea so severe it can kill from dehydration in hours.

Robyn Fieser, a spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services, said she was confident aid groups and the Haitian government will be prepared to respond to an outbreak should it occur in the camps. But she stressed that the challenge of preventing its spread is "immense."

"There are proven methods to contain and treat cholera, so we know what we're dealing with. The biggest challenge is logistics, that is, moving massive amounts of medicine, supplies and people into place to treat them and prevent the disease from spreading," Fieser said from the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Doctors Without Borders issued a statement saying some Port-au-Prince residents were suffering from watery diarrhea and were being treated at facilities in the capital city. Cholera infection among the patients had not been confirmed, however, and aid workers stressed diarrhea has not been uncommon in Port-au-Prince since the quake.

"Medical teams have treated many people with watery diarrhea over the last several months," Doctors Without Borders said.

Aid workers in the impoverished nation say the risk is magnified by the extreme poverty faced by people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed as many as 300,000 people and destroyed much of the capital city. Haitians living in the camps risk disease by failing to wash their hands, or scooping up standing water and then proceeding to wash fruits and vegetables.

From this OXFAM press release, health adviser Raphael Mutiku talks about the aid group's efforts in treating over 25,000 people with cholera symptoms.

"We are obviously concerned about the spread of cholera to Port-au-Prince. However, earthquake victims living in and around the capital have better access to clean water, latrines and better knowledge of good hygiene practices than in rural areas. We have been doing ongoing educational sessions in dozens of camps ever since the earthquake struck.

"We are working as quickly as possible to stop the spread of cholera. We have a lot of resources in the country right now and luckily this is a very preventable and treatable disease. Oxfam will reach over 25,000 on Sunday with distribution of water tablets, rehydration salts packs and bars of soap . The goal is to stop the spread in the region of Petite Riviere by Wednesday. We were assigned this region which covers about 100,000 people."

"Our hygiene messages are already reaching tens of thousands on the local radio. We are well aware that it's spreading but cholera is very preventable, so as soon as appropriate prevention programs like these are put in place, we can very quickly control its spread.

In Haiti : Julie Schindall on +1 617 735 5572 (US mobile in Haiti) +509 3701 0651 (Haiti mobile)
In USA : Louis Belanger on +1 917 224 0834, @louis_press

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