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Suspected cholera outbreak in Haiti

Haiti is facing its largest medical crisis since the earthquake in January with a suspected outbreak of cholera. Officials are reporting over 1,500 cases of people who have fallen desperately ill from acute diarrhoea and vomiting. Nearly 140 people have died so far, many the old and young who are particularly vulnerable.

The outbreak has occurred in the central Artibonite region around the town of Saint-Marc and in Douin and Marchand Dessalines. This area, which lies north of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, is a farming region but has become home to thousands of refugees following the earthquake. Local hospitals were soon overwhelmed with the number of cases and doctors at the St Nicholas hospital in Saint-Marc were treating hundreds of people on stretchers in the car park. International aid agencies have sent teams to the region and some victims are being transferred to clinics in other areas.

One of the doctors treating the sick who works for the Pan American Health Organization said that cholera had yet to be confirmed as the cause of the deaths. However, early indications from 13 specimens taken from those who had died lead the teams to believe they were dealing with cholera. This bacterial infection is caught through ingesting water or food which has been contaminated with faeces. Once someone is infected, the diarrhoea and vomiting caused by the bacteria leads to severe dehydration which can kill within a few hours if left untreated. All the victims brought to the hospitals and medical centres are being given antibiotics and put on intravenous drips to rehydrate them.

Aid workers are concerned that if the outbreak is not contained, it could easily spread to the camps which house around a million Haitians left homeless by the earthquake in January. Conditions in the 1,300 camps are extremely overcrowded and disease or infection could spread rapidly.

Organisations working among the refugees continue to express their worries about conditions in the camps. Tent materials are beginning to deteriorate and aid workers are concerned about the poor level of protection provided by the tents. Torrential rains battered Port-Au-Prince last week, which killed 10 people in flooding and mudslides. This followed a number of deaths in earlier rainstorms which swept through the open-air camps.

There are also reports of increasing intimidation in the camps and clinics are receiving a higher number of women who have been raped. An advocate for Refugees International has called for better security and policing in the camps, and an increased number of translators and experienced UN refugee workers.

Laurinda Luffman signature