Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Protesters throw rocks at cholera clinic in Haiti

A Medecins Sans Frontires cholera facility in St Marc, Haiti was the site of a protest from locals. The residents threw rocks at the facility complaining that it was too close to a school and could further contaminate children. The protesters blocked the road leading to the clinic and prevented people with cholera symptoms from receiving treatment.

From Al Jazerra, reporter Craig Mauro describes the site of the protest.

Those protesting against the clinic's presence "thought it was too close to the school and would contaminate people", he said.

UN peacekeepers from Argentina with riot shields were called in to reinforce police and warning shots were heard as the the protest was brought under control.

The French non-governmental organisation insisted that the clinic's presence was unlikely to cause the spread of the disease.

"They didn't understood well what was the purpose of this camp and how are we going to treat the patients there, and we believe in this coming days we are going to start to work with this community, to explain them that there is no risk for them to have such a facility to treat these patients inside," Francoise Otero, a representative for of the organisation in Haiti, said.

The 400-bed facility was intended to rehydrate and treat people with the disease, which has killed at least 284 people and made nearly 3,769 sick.

The incident came as health officials said that the outbreak appeared to be stabilising.

"The fact that we are seeing fewer severe cases is positive," Federica Nogarotto, the MSF field coordinator in Saint-Marc, said.

"It suggests that people are taking precautions and that there is a greater understanding in the community of the need to maintain strict hygiene and to seek medical assistance at the first sign of symptoms."

The following from the Medecins Sans Frontires gives their side of the story.

A demonstration at a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cholera treatment center in the Haitian town of St. Marc on Tuesday, October 26, has disrupted efforts to prevent the spread of cholera and treat people already suffering from the disease, MSF said today.

Construction of a 400-bed cholera treatment center (CTC) was nearing completion when a group of people demonstrated violently against the opening of the facility. Several tents within the center’s compound were burned. Patients were due to be moved to the CTC from the St. Nicholas Hospital in St. Marc, where cholera patients are currently being treated in less than ideal conditions. There were no serious injuries resulting from the demonstration.

“The ultimate consequence is that we are now unable to respond to the cholera outbreak in the Artibonite region in the most effective manner and under the best possible conditions,” said Francisco Otero, head of MSF’s emergency response teams in St. Marc. “This facility was critical to relieving the burden of the high number of cases on St. Nicholas hospital and ensuring rapid treatment of critical cases.”

Close proximity of a CTC to a community does not pose an additional risk to the population. On the contrary, a CTC located in a cholera-affected area affords rapid treatment, helping to ensure lifesaving care to critical cases and to mitigate against further spread of the disease. Rapid onset of diarrhea and vomiting from cholera infection can be lethal in less than 24 hours if left untreated.

“Cholera is a very treatable disease and we are ready to put our expertise to the best use to treat victims of this epidemic,” said Otero. “We look forward to working with the authorities and community leaders to find a solution that does not compromise the effectiveness of the response to this outbreak. MSF remains committed to establishing cholera treatment centers to give the optimal treatment possible and control the spread of the disease."

It has been recommended by the Ministry of Health to dismantle the CTC, which was being assembled on a football field near the hospital, in order to relieve tensions with the community and to give the opportunity to further reassure the population that the facility does not pose any risk to them. The Haitian authorities have stated that they will propose another location for the CTC. It had been previously authorized to be placed there.

Since the emergence of cholera in St. Marc, MSF teams have been working in the Ministry of Health’s St. Nicholas Hospital, which quickly became overwhelmed with patients. Isolating cholera patients to limit infection risk to the rest of the hospital population presented a significant challenge. A functioning CTC would have relieved pressure on the hospital, allowing it to continue its normal function in service to the population. It also would have provided optimal hygiene control, which is fundamental to cholera treatment. MSF has a long history of employing CTCs in highly effective cholera interventions in many countries.

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