Many of the dead were living in low-lying areas along river banks, ignoring warnings about the risks. The rains have also flattened many of the flimsy homes and tents occupied by survivors of the 2010 earthquake and floodwaters swept through some of the slums and tent cities of the capital Port-au-Prince. There is currently a break in the weather, but more rain is forecast over the coming days and the Haitian government has asked people to leave areas at risk of flooding.
The start of the hurricane season also brings the worry of cholera spreading. Cholera has already killed more than 5,000 people in Haiti, though the United Nations-led operation to combat the epidemic has reduced the fatality rate from its peak last year, when dozens of people were dying each day. Already, health officials in neighbouring Dominican Republic are reporting a rise in cholera patients at hospitals and health workers in Haiti are bracing themselves for an increase in the number of cases.
Two recently released research studies suggest that introducing vaccination programmes after the start of an outbreak can reduce the number of infections. The current advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that such ‘retroactive’ vaccination is not beneficial. But with the studies estimating that vaccination could prevent up to 40 per cent of deaths, there are new calls to begin vaccinations in Haiti. The author of one of the studies and a researcher at the International Vaccine Institute said that until sanitation and water supplies could be improved in Haiti, “mass vaccination campaigns with oral cholera vaccines are the most promising help that we can offer.....[and] would almost certainly reduce the number of cases in the future.” However, a mass vaccination programme in Haiti would take time to organise and advisors at the WHO believe that given the virulent nature of the outbreak in Haiti and the general situation in the country, vaccinations would not necessarily lead to the reduction in cases modelled by the researchers.
In the meantime, international organisations and charities continue to work with the Haitian authorities to improve the water supply. Providing access to clean water and better sanitary facilities are fundamental to reducing the risk of cholera. To mark World Water Day and highlight the importance of clean water, the charity Malteser International organised a drawing competition for 10-13 year olds living in Cité Soleil. The participating children all received ten aqua tabs each for entering their drawings and prizes of coloring pens and paints were offered to the winners. With no access to a good supply of clean water in the area, the tablets provide each child with up to 250 litres of drinking water, helping protect them from the risk of cholera.