Over 250 people have now died from the cholera outbreak which has struck the central Artibonite region of Haiti. And over 3,000 cases of infection have been reported. The Saint Nicholas hospital at Saint-Marc is filled to the brim with patients and anxious relatives, who wait by sick children or family-members. However, victims are now being brought to the hospital in the earlier stages of cholera, though it takes some families valuable hours to reach medical help, travelling on foot or by donkey with their sick. But the number of new admissions is slowing and the authorities are hoping this is a sign that the outbreak is being contained.
There have been serious worries over the weekend about the outbreak spreading to the crowded camps of Port-Au-Prince, after five cases of cholera were reported in the capital. However, it has been confirmed that all these people had travelled south from the affected Artibonite region and had not caught the sickness in Port-Au-Prince.
The source of the outbreak is thought to be the Artibonite river, which flows across central Haiti. Patients being treated at the hospitals reported they had recently used the river for bathing, washing their clothes or for swimming. The government have responded by launching a public awareness campaign warning people not to bath in the river. Radio announcements in Creole have also urged people to wash their hands properly, avoid consuming raw vegetables and boil all food and drinking water. Health workers have been giving out soap bars, water purification tablets and rehydration sachets to people who live along the river.
United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, who number around 12,000 in Haiti, have been utilizing helicopters and trucks to take several hundred doctors and nurses to the Artibonite region. The worst-affected places are Saint-Marc, Grande Saline, L’Estere, Marchand Dessalines, Desdune, Petite Riviere, Lachapelle and St Michel de l’Attalaye. The president of Haiti, President Rene Preval, visited Saint-Marc on Sunday, but said it is too early to say if the outbreak will cause any delay to elections scheduled for the end of November.
It is over a hundred years since Haiti last saw an outbreak of cholera, so there is no immunity among the people. And the infection can spread frighteningly quickly through poor personal hygiene after contact with the sick. This is why agencies have ensured a rapid response to the area and report they have enough antibiotics and intravenous fluids to treat 30,000 people. The UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti said that even though cases of hospital admission were beginning to decrease, “we must gear up for a serious epidemic, even though we hope it won’t happen”.