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Cholera is confirmed in capital of Haiti

The Haitian health ministry has now confirmed that cholera has spread to the capital Port-au-Prince. Over a hundred people are being treated in the city and health experts predict thousands more will contract the disease. Across the country, over 9,000 cases of cholera have been registered and nearly 600 people have died. The disease is currently present in half of Haiti’s 10 regions and its spread to the capital, which had been feared over the past few weeks, is now official.

An estimated 2.5 million Haitians live in Port-au-Prince, 1.3 million of them in the tented camps set up for survivors of January’s earthquake. Aid workers in the tent cities say that people in the camps at least have access to clean drinking water and toilets. Their main concern at the moment is for Haitians living in areas without basic sanitation and where residents are forced to use contaminated water.

The initial cases of cholera in the capital have happened in the slum area of Cite Soleil, a huge area of brick, wood and tin-roof shanties. Over 115 cases and one death have been reported at the local hospital there. Cite Soleil suffers from dire sanitary conditions. The shanty houses run alongside rubbish-clogged canals which are used as toilets by many of the slums’ inhabitants. Because of the area’s reputation for gang violence, only a small number of aid agencies operate here and supplies of soap and water purification tablets are limited. Aid workers say conditions in the area are perfect for the rapid spread of cholera.

The United Nations, aid agencies and private non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been distributing the necessary medicines and supplies to clinics and hospitals in the capital. And special cholera treatment centres are being set up in hospital compounds and outside medical centres. Currently, the authorities say that facilities and supplies are “stretched but sufficient”. It is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy what impact the disease will have in Haiti. But looking at the spread of previous cholera epidemics in South America, like the one which hit Peru in 1991, the World Health Organisation has warned that Haiti could see infections rising to 270,000 cases and higher, since conditions in Haiti are significantly worse than those in Peru. It is also feared the disease could spread to the neighbouring Dominican Republic and medical facilities there have been put on “high alert”.

Now the disease has a foothold in the river systems of Haiti - the recent rains and flooding brought by hurricane Tomas will have spread the bacteria further - it is likely that this cholera epidemic will now run for many years in Haiti.
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