Cholera Reaches Haitian Capital

In Asia, Diseases & Mutations, Earthquakes & Tsunamis, News Headlines

The first confirmed cholera death in the Haitian capital is fuelling concerns about the dangers of a major outbreak in Port-au-Prince.

Health officials are reporting that more cases are emerging in the slums and makeshift camps around the crowded city.

Aid groups are patrolling the crumbled streets and camps of Port-au-Prince, warning locals to wash their hands because of the disease.

The overall death toll stands at almost 600, but the deaths have been traced to rural communities living near the Artibonite River and its tributaries.

But health authorities have confirmed the first death from cholera in a slum in Port-au-Prince.

Many other suspected cases are being treated, with people complaining of vomiting and diarrhoea.

“If they don’t receive health care, appropriate health care, you can die in four to six hours,” aid worker Dr Anany Prospero said.

It is estimated 1,000 new patients have shown up at clinics and hospitals around the impoverished country and health officials say 9,000 Haitians have caught the waterborne disease.

Australian Matt Cochrane, who works for the International Red Cross in Port-au-Prince, says five cholera treatment clinics are operating in the capital but that number will be boosted to 10.

“It needs to be bolstered and particularly if this report this morning suggests the beginning of a massive increase in cases, it needs to be bolstered quite quickly,” he said.

“We know we’ll be able to set up a full cholera treatment centre within a few days once we have the green light from authorities and other organisations.

“Organisations like Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have already been treating thousands of people and are looking to bolster their capacity as well.”

Aid groups are also distributing cholera prevention kits with soap, chlorine and water purification tablets.

US state department spokesman PJ Crowley says while more Haitians will die from the treatable disease, the country has sufficient resources.

“Through a combination of the improved surveillance, the pre-positioned stocks that are on hand in Haiti, Haiti is well positioned to contain the outbreak,” he said.

Mr Cochrane says it is important to isolate those suffering from the disease and he warns against complacency.

“This illness can kill so quickly and so brutally and spread so rapidly,” he said.

“So all efforts to contain this, to raise awareness among affected populations, to ensure people have access to clean water and basic sanitation and to ensure people who get sick can receive the simple treatment they need – that has to be the priority of everyone here.

“If we’re not doing that then what are we doing here?”

With painfully slow progress on reconstruction and frustration levels rising, the director of Haiti’s health ministry says containing the cholera outbreak is a matter of national security.

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