HAITI REPORTS 25 NEW CHOLERA DEATHS
(AFP) - By Clarens Renois
Haiti reported 25 more cholera deaths on Tuesday as UN health officials warned the epidemic was not over yet amid lingering fears it could still infiltrate the capital's putrid refugee camps.
The cholera outbreak, the first in Haiti in more than 100 years, has stabilized in recent days but the number of new deaths announced on Tuesday was more than four times the six reported on Monday.
Overall infections have been increasing steadily and doctor Roc Magloire of the Haitian public health ministry said the number being treated in hospitals and clinics had risen over the past 24 hours by 270 to 3,612.
So far the poorest country in the western hemisphere 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.
Large parts of the capital and other nearby towns were flattened by January's 7.0-magnitude quake which killed a quarter of a million people and displaced 1.3 million.
"At the WHO we think more cases will be found. The most important thing is prevention," World Health Organization spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.
As the toll built, Haiti's more prosperous neighbor, the Dominican Republic -- with which it shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola -- tightened up border security to keep the disease at bay.
Officials in Santo Domingo said entry into the country from Haiti would be severely restricted, and border security increased to ensure new regulations are complied with.
"We will maintain strict supervision of our ports, airports and border crossings points to prevent the transmission of this disease to our country," public health minister Bautista Rojas was quoted as saying.
Chaib urged the Dominican Republic to keep the border open, but admitted there was no harm in making contingency plans.
"There is no need to close the borders or restrict travel or trade because a neighboring country has cholera. This is what we say for all cholera outbreaks worldwide."
Aid agencies, meanwhile, stepped up efforts to educate Haitians about the risks and treatment of the disease, using local radio stations and text-messages about hygiene precautions.
Haitian officials said Monday they believed the outbreak had been contained and was limited to central areas near its believed source on the Artibonite river. But a UN statement quickly tempered any optimism by warning that a nationwide outbreak infecting tens of thousands of people was still a distinct possibility.
"We are particularly concerned about Port-au-Prince and those in the slum areas as well as in the camps, but we are also preparing for outbreaks in the rest of the country," said Nigel Fisher, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti.
Living conditions in the camps, where pools of human waste lie in areas where people bathe, do laundry and share meals, are ideal for cholera to thrive. The disease, which is primarily transmitted through contaminated food and water, can fatally dehydrate a victim in a matter of hours.
Amid the makeshift homes in the overflowing Champs de Mars camp, across the street from Haiti's crushed national palace, the dread of cholera is palpable. "We know what to do to protect ourselves, but children are left to their own devices," said 24-year-old Elvia. "They don't wash themselves correctly and, look, the toilets are right in front of the tents where we live."
Five cholera cases were confirmed at the weekend in the capital, but UN officials said those people traveled in from outside and were quickly diagnosed and isolated.
Most of those infected have been admitted to hospitals and clinics around Saint-Marc, a major town northwest of the capital. Five cholera treatment centers have been set up in the Artibonite region and six more are planned in the capital as a precaution. Doctors Without Borders has installed a field hospital in Saint-Marc to treat patients and aid groups have sent emergency specialists to the Artibonite region to set up water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.