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Cholera-hit Haiti told to prepare for worst

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2010 at 7:10 am

 Officials warned that Haiti should prepare for the worst as hundreds more patients packed into hospitals amid a deadly cholera outbreak that has claimed almost 300 lives.

A total of 4,147 people were being treated for the disease, said the head of Haiti’s health department Gabriel Thimote, while eight new fatalities brought the death toll to 292.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned the outbreak was far from over and Haiti should prepare for the disease to hit its capital Port-au-Prince, which is teeming with squalid tent cities after January’s catastrophic earthquake.

“We cannot say it is contained,” WHO’s cholera chief, Claire-Lise Chaignat, told journalists in Geneva.

A woman checks on her cholera-stricken child at Saint Nicolas hospital in Saint-Marc, 100 kms (62 miles) north of Port-au-Prince.

“I think we haven’t reached the peak,” she said, recommending that Haitian authorities prepare for the “worst case scenario” — cholera in the capital.

The acute intestinal infection is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, which is thought to have infected the Artibonite River, a major artery that runs through Haiti to the coast near Saint Marc — the outbreak’s epicenter.

Although easily treated, cholera has a short incubation period — sometimes just a few hours — and causes acute watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death.

Some 1.3 million people displaced by the 7.0 quake are still crammed into thousands of makeshift camps, and aid agencies have voiced fears cholera could spread like wildfire in such conditions.

Fear of the disease is turning to anger, as Haitians begin to blame foreign aid workers and peacekeepers for the Caribbean nation’s first ever outbreak of cholera.

Rumors have swirled this week that Nepalese troops with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were the source of the outbreak.

The mission rushed to deny the claims, insisting the mission “uses seven septic tanks” situated far away from the Artibonite River.

The installation of a vital treatment center in Saint Marc, meanwhile, had to be halted after some 300 residents confronted doctors and aid workers.

Fuelled by fear the facility would spread cholera to two nearby schools, residents of Saint Marc threw stones at medical workers of the international medical agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The specialized treatment center was being set up outside the overwhelmed St Nicolas hospital here, where some 800 patients are already being treated with hundreds of new cases arriving each day, officials said.

Argentine troops with MINUSTAH stepped in to stop the protest, and on Wednesday they were overseeing the dismantling of the facility, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Port-au-Prince.

“It was a big misunderstanding,” Haitian doctor Yfto Maquette told AFP in the hospital’s chaotic courtyard overflowing with patients who were supposed to have been moved to the new facility.

“The fact that we don’t have the center is stopping us from effectively treating people,” said an MSF official who declined to be named.

“We need to get the message out that cholera is a disease that we are very experienced in treating,” he said.

Maquette pointed out there was still need for basic response tools for the crisis, saying the medical team “only has one ambulance to bring people into the hospital.”

MSF, which has eight facilities open to treat cholera infections in the region, said however the fact fewer deaths were being reported was a good sign.

“The fact that we are seeing fewer severe cases is positive,” said Federica Nogarotto, the MSF field coordinator in Saint-Marc.

“It suggests that people are taking precautions and that there is a greater understanding in the community of the need to maintain strict hygiene and to seek medical assistance at the first sign of symptoms.”

Mexico said Wednesday it has sent military cargo plane with 11 doctors and 2.2 tons of medical supplies to help Haiti tackle the cholera outbreak.

So far, the Americas’ poorest country has managed to avoid the nightmare scenario of the epidemic taking hold in the unsanitary tent cities that cling to the hilly slopes of Port-au-Prince.

But worryingly for doctors, a number of patients in the town of Arcahaie said they had drunk only treated water before falling ill.

The treated water, the main source of “clean” water for most of the population in the region, is taken from the Artibonite river.

Source: SGGP

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