Haiti Cholera Crisis Continues to Spread

Pivotal elections will proceed as planned in Haiti despite the cholera outbreak that has now sickened more than 60,000 people and threatens to keep spreading. The death toll now stands at 1,415, the Ministry of Public Health and Population reported Wednesday, citing data collected as of November 20. More than 25,000 people have been hospitalized.

Some of the 19 presidential candidates have urged a postponement of Sunday’s vote. But Ken Marten, the United States ambassador to Haiti, said the election process was on track. He said 250,000 new voters were registered and more than 11,000 voting stations have been identified in the fifth presidential election since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship and the first key moment at the polls since the devastating earthquake in January. “We have a cholera problem here, which is something that the Haitians and we are all grappling with, which is a major public health challenge here,” Marten said at a news conference Tuesday. “And we have elections which should take place, need to take place, and we are here to support that effort.” (CNN)

Meanwhile, the Pan American Health Organization said it was planning to treat 400,000 cholera cases within the next year, up from a previous estimate of 270,000 over several years, as a result of the outbreak in Haiti. “We need to plan for up to half of those cases occurring in the next three months because of the explosive nature of this epidemic,” the organization’s deputy director, Dr. Jon Kim Andrus, told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “We need more of everything,” he said. “More training for staff in Haiti, more doctors, more nurses, more treatment centers, more medications, more toilets, more clean water.” (CNN)

“We think that the rate of this infection will rise, but we can deal with this,” Valerie Amos, the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told CBC News. “Cholera is terrible.” Amos is currently in Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, for a two-day visit. “I will be calling on our partners – not just other governments but also NGO partners [and] UN agencies – to make sure that we get more resources. We desperately need more supplies as well.” (CBC)

Earlier this week, Nigel Fisher, the Canadian who is heading up the UN’s humanitarian efforts in Haiti, said bureaucracy and indecision on the part of Haitian officials is slowing down the aid response to the outbreak. He said local governments need to act faster to approve cholera treatment centers that and that designated burial sites for cholera victims must also be set up. Amos concurred. “We need decisions by government,” she said. “We need land to be given over which can be used for the burial of people, but we also need land so that we can build some of our treatment centres. This is absolutely critical. We are working with local authorities, because people are fearful sometimes about a treatment centre being put up in their area, because they think it’s bringing cholera.” (CBC)

“We have to control the outbreak and we have to bring down the percentage of people who are dying, and we have to do that as a matter of urgency,” Amos told Reuters. If untreated, cholera, a virulent diarrhea disease, can kill in hours, but if caught early enough can be easily treated through rehydration of the infected person. “I’m being told it hasn’t reached its peak yet, that it will get worse before it gets better,” Amos said. (Reuters)

Given the billions of dollars that had already been pledged for Haiti’s earthquake recovery, Amos said it was possible some members of the international community did not understand why separate additional funds were needed for the cholera response. “Let’s remember: we have fed 1.3 million people (made homeless by the quake), we have given them access to health care, we have given them access to education. Until the cholera outbreak, we hadn’t had a major outbreak of disease,” she said. “All this in a country devastated by an earthquake where you lost significant numbers of people who would have been part of working on the solution,” Amos added. (Reuters)

Much of Haiti’s health infrastructure was shattered by the January 12 earthquake, which killed more than 250,000 people, mostly in the capital Port-au-Prince, decimating the ranks of the government civil service. Amos said it would take time to solve Haiti’s huge problems, stressing that even before the earthquake and the cholera epidemic the country’s health and development levels were among the lowest in the world. “This kind of an assumption that when there is a disaster, you can fix it in two or three months, it just isn’t true,” she said. (Reuters)

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