Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Haitian cholera death-toll surpasses 400

The death toll in the Haitian cholera outbreak has now surpassed 400. According to Health Ministry official Jocelyne Pierre-Louis, the death toll is 442, 105 of those have occurred since Saturday. 1978 people have also been hospitalized with cholera symptoms since Saturday. According to a News Channel Asia story, these numbers indicate a small increase in the rate of cholera infections.

In a great story that we found st Spiegel Online, writer Marc Hujer gives us an on-the-ground look at some of the prevention efforts in Port-au-Prince.

Port-au-Prince is taking whatever precautions it can. Emergency centers are being set up, including tents where hundreds of cholera patients can be treated simultaneously. Government agencies and aid organizations are using the radio stations to disseminate information about hygiene and simple, preventive measures, like frequent hand washing, boiling water for drinking purposes and adding salt and sugar to water.

No Signs of a Better Haiti

Aid workers wielding megaphones are driving around the city, telling people how important it is to use soap. But is this country even capable of protecting itself? It's been nine months since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and yet parts of the country still look like war zones. Close to 10,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing emergency aid, but Haiti is still a long way from being a functioning country. And despite all the help, there is no evidence that a better Haiti is being built.

Nine months after the earthquake, hygienic conditions are still catastrophic, and almost 1.3 million people are still living in makeshift huts made of plastic tarps. The country lacks housing, infrastructure or even a plan to regain its autonomy one day. For many experts, the cholera outbreak is mainly an indication of how vulnerable this troubled island remains.

The first priority for the aid workers is to protect Port-au-Prince from the impending disaster. The situation is extremely serious, says Nigel Fisher, the United Nations representative in Haiti, and it would be irresponsible in light of experiences with epidemics in other places not to prepare for a major outbreak.

Gabriel Thimothée, the director of the Haitian Public Health Ministry, tries to allay such fears. "We can prevent a pandemic," he says, partly because of international support. Venezuela is sending medication for 2,000 cholera patients, and a team of 15 doctors arrived from Mexico in the middle of the week.

"This epidemic is just another disaster in a long chain of catastrophes on this island," says Julie Schindall, the local spokeswoman for international aid organization Oxfam. The international aid workers should have started reconstruction work long ago, but everyone is still in emergency mode, says Schindall, and that's the problem.

It seems absurd that aid workers from around the world have achieved so little by now. Until recently, they were quick to point out that at least they had prevented disease outbreaks. But even that tiny success has now been destroyed. For decades, Haiti has received international aid every time disaster struck, but no one ever managed to build a functioning community.

Some experts even wonder whether the large numbers of aid workers on the island could actually be an impediment to reconstruction. "We have established a republic of NGOs," Edmond Mulet, director of the UN mission in Haiti, said a number of days ago. Instead of turning over responsibility to the Haitians, says Mulet, the aid workers have created many structures that replace the government in areas like education and healthcare. According to Mulet, this is why the international community is partly responsible for the weak Haitian state.

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