Cholera outbreak plagues Haiti

Five cases of cholera have been detected in Haiti’s
capital, Port-au-Prince, the UN says, amid an outbreak that has killed more
than 200 people.

UN officials said the patients had been quickly diagnosed
and isolated.

They became infected in the main outbreak zone – the
Artibonite region – and then travelled to the capital where they developed
symptoms, the UN said.

This meant Port-au-Prince was “not a new location of
infection”, the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency said.

“The identification of the five cases in the
capital, while worrying, also demonstrates that the reporting systems for
epidemic management are functioning,” said the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or Ocha.

More than a million survivors of Haiti’s devastating
January earthquake are crowded into tent cities around Port-au-Prince with poor
sanitary conditions and little access to clean drinking water.

With 2,674 cases of the disease reported, health
officials have been trying to contain the outbreak in Artibonite and Central

They said they had stepped up disease prevention measures
and surveillance at the tent camps, and sent medical teams north to treat those
infected so they did not travel to the capital to seek help.

This is the
first time in a century that cholera has struck the Caribbean nation

Ocha also said five cholera treatment centres were being
built in the Port-au-Prince, most attached to hospitals or clinics.

“The hospitals in Port-au-Prince seem more prepared
now for cholera to hit the area but the situation is far from under
control,” said Carel Padre.

“Everybody is worried about the disease reaching
this dense city where there is a lack of sanitation and nowhere clean to cook
or sleep,” he told the BBC.

On Saturday, Ocha reported that the severity of the
outbreak seems to be lessening in the southern Artibonite but its continued
spread in the north of the region remained a concern.

“Although there is an increase in the number of
confirmed cases, it is increasing at a slower pace than in previous days, which
is a possible indication that some of the prevention and treatment measures are
taking effect,” Ocha said.

Meanwhile, officials confirmed that 194 people had died
of cholera in Artibonite, and another 14 in Central Plateau.

The worst-hit areas were Saint-Marc, Grande Saline,
L’Estere, Marchand Dessalines, Desdunes, Petite Riviere, Lachapelle, and St
Michel de l’Attalaye, said the UN.

A number of cases have also been reported in the city of
Gonaives, and towns closer to the capital, including Archaei, Limbe and

Local hospitals have been overwhelmed. Aid workers said
many patients at the St Nicholas hospital in Saint-Marc were being forced to
lie outside in the car park in unhygienic conditions, hooked up to intravenous

The aid agency Medicins Sans Frontieres has set up a
cordon around the hospital to control exit and entry to try to contain the
spread of the outbreak.

Dr Jhonny Fequiere told the BBC that his hospital in
Marchand Dessalines was also struggling to cope, and that he had seen dozens

“We are trying to take care of people, but we are
running out of medicine and need additional medical care. We are giving
everything we have but we need more to keep taking care of people,” he said.

Some patients said they became ill after drinking water
from a canal, but others said they were drinking only purified water. The
Artibonite river, which irrigates central Haiti, is thought to be contaminated.

Haitian Health Minister Alex Larsen has urged people to
wash their hands with soap, not eat raw vegetables, boil all food and drinking
water, and avoid bathing in and drinking from rivers.

There are enough antibiotics in Haiti to treat 100,000
cases of cholera and intravenous fluids to treat 30,000, according to the UN.

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