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Unrest in Haiti hampering medical efforts

After first-round election results were announced in Haiti this week, protestors took to the streets in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien. There was considerable unrest as mobs hurled stones and set up barricades and four people were killed during the violence. Michel Martelly, the candidate who came third in the election for President, narrowly missing a place in the second round run-off, called on his supporters to end mass action and urged them to protest peacefully.

Following the unrest, the Provisional Electoral Commission has today announced it will conduct an urgent review of the first round results, which were extremely close between the second and third candidates. Jude Celestin, standing for Haiti’s governing party, polled 22 per cent compared with 21 per cent for Mr Martelly, a difference of only 6,800 votes. Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, won the first round with 31 per cent of the vote. All three representatives have welcomed the electoral authority’s announcement.

The United Nations (UN) Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said the insecurity in Haiti was affecting UN organisations and other humanitarian agencies because aid workers were having to remain inside and were unable to “get supplies out to people who need it”. Baroness Amos called on all Haitians involved in the political process to calm the situation so that help could reach the people who desperately need it.

The Health Ministry in Haiti reports 93,000 citizens have been infected with cholera since the epidemic started seven weeks ago and there have been over 2000 deaths. The UN believes the disease may be spreading much faster than originally predicted. Health officials say that 650,000 people could be infected over the next six months and the number of dead could actually be twice as high as the official records suggest. More doctors and medical staff are still needed across Haiti to cope with the scale of the disaster. With more staff, it might be possible to reduce the current death rate among those infected, which is currently running at 3.6%.

Meanwhile health experts in the US have tested the strain of cholera and reported it is similar to one found in Bangladesh. Nepalese UN troops drafted into Haiti have been blamed by many Haitians as the source of the outbreak, but without a sample of a cholera strain from Nepal, the scientific teams are unable to prove this is the case. The scientists did confirm that the strain causing havoc across Haiti has a mutation which gives the disease a particular severity and it is in a group of strains which are “the worst of the worst”. Experts are calling for the screening of humanitarian workers and foreign troops, or for them to be given doses of antibiotics or vaccine. This would avoid transferral of cholera across countries and prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.

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