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The UN calls for more medical help in Haiti

As Baroness Amos continued her visit to Haiti, the United Nations (UN) humanitarian chief expressed concern that doctors and nurses were becoming overwhelmed by their efforts to deal with the cholera epidemic. Health centres across the capital are now full of patients, with medical staff working round the clock to treat sufferers who need rehydration solution every few minutes. More than 1,500 people have now died from the disease and with the increasing numbers falling ill, the UN is calling for more than 1,000 extra nurses and 100 more doctors to help deal with the crisis.

A spokesperson for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that the cholera was spreading so quickly, each time the organisation sets up a new treatment centre, spaces are immediately filled. The UN is therefore asking the international community and aid organisations to supply more staff, particularly from countries where they can be deployed rapidly. Cuba, for example, already has 400 doctors and health workers in Haiti.

It is also becoming clear that efforts to deal with the epidemic are being hampered by shortages of supplies like soap and more specialist items such as body bags. At a press conference, Baroness Amos was adamant that “we clearly need to do more.” Since the UN’s appeal for 164 million dollars has resulted in only ten per cent of the money needed, the World Bank has just announced an emergency grant of 10 million dollars for Haiti. As well as being used to provide medical supplies, the money will also help recruit more staff and fund further awareness-raising information.

Health workers dealing with the crisis say it is crucial more of the infected are wherever possible treated with oral rehydration before they reach the clinics. Since the disease can kill in as short a time as four hours, delays in getting patients to treatment centres are proving fatal. Reports are emerging from the capital that some people are “dying in traffic jams”, because with gridlocked roads they are not reaching health centres in time.

Throughout Port-au-Prince, community workers are putting up posters and at public water points, teams are providing free water purification tablets and information leaflets. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been sponsoring public information messages through radio, television and mobile texts. Door to door visits and talks at community centres such as schools and markets are also being organised. With the extra awareness-raising activities, UNICEF hopes to ensure that at least one member of each family or group knows how to prevent cholera. Such campaigns have certainly worked with one eleven-year old in the capital. Basélé had seen a poster and reported “we have to eat food that is well cooked, drink purified water and wash our hands often

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