Saturday, October 23, 2010


(Reuters) - Source: UNICEF

NEW YORK – Concern is growing in Haiti this week as over 135 deaths from acute diarrhoea have been reported, and fear of a cholera outbreak grows.

An additional 1,500 people have been hospitalized with a variety of diarrhoea-related side effects, including dehydration, vomiting and abdominal pain. The confirmed cases are clustered around the Artibonite River in a region two hours north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

UNICEF Haiti's Chief of Health, Dr. Jean-Claude Mubalama, said the situation was hectic and the local hospital in Saint-Marc was overwhelmed with sick people.

"The people here – the medical [staff] and the nurses – are not very familiar with this kind of disease," said Mr. Mubalama. As a result, UNICEF is managing the available resources, as well as coordinating with government and local partners, to try to treat people as quickly as possible, he added.

Deaths among children
Children are particularly vulnerable. Mr. Mubalama estimated that 30 per cent of the recent deaths were among children, but the ages of the patients were not recorded on their arrival at the hospital.

"The children are arriving at the hospital very, very, very late – at the last moment," explained Mr. Mubalama. "They are dying when they arrive."

According to the Artibonite Health District, there are only three to four hours between the onset of symptoms and death. While Mr. Mubalama estimated that 80 per cent of all the deaths are occurring in people's homes, the survival rate is much higher for those who can get to the hospital before their symptoms become too severe.

Unsanitary conditions
The cause of the cholera cases is still unclear, but it is feared that the water in the Artibonite River is contaminated, and the Government of Haiti is sampling it for testing.

The situation does not appear to be a direct result of the massive earthquake in January, but the crowding and movement of displaced peoples can often result in unsanitary conditions, a primary cause of cholera.

"This area was not affected by the earthquake," said Mr. Mubalama. "But we have many people displaced from the affected area, and they come here to the Artibonite Department."

Access to safe water
To prevent further infections, UNICEF and its partners are distributing water purification chemicals, antibiotics, diarrhoeal disease kits and oral rehydration salts, and has requested additional supplies.

Cholera is caused by consuming contaminated water and food and often spreads as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene. It is preventable provided there is access to sanitary washroom facilities and safe, drinkable water – both of which remain difficult to come by as Haiti continues to recover from the earthquake that devastated the country 10 months ago.

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