Wednesday, December 1, 2010


(CBC News)

A St. John's doctor who has been travelling to Haiti to provide care said the country's already burdened health-care system is preparing for the cholera epidemic to grow.

"What we are hearing now is that this is the wave before the tsunami hits. Then we can expect that this is going to go on for several months and our need for more staff is going to expand in the very near future," Dr. Tiffany Keenan told CBC News Tuesday on the phone from Haiti.

Keenan founded Haiti Village Health in a northern part of the country about three years ago in a rural seaside town west of one of the country's largest cities, Cap-Hatiƫn.

She said the clinic has been operating 24 hours a day since Nov. 22 because nearby hospitals are unable to handle all the cholera patients in the area.

"The local hospitals are overrun with cholera patients and under-staffed," she said.

Keenan said hiring staff and getting basic supplies is a challenge.

"We're trying to get some beds, because right now we have patients basically on benches, we've got them on Rubbermaid containers," she said. "We are just struggling to get by, really it's a day-to-day thing."

Keenan, an emergency room physician in St. John's, said the clinic is getting some help from Doctors Without Borders but she said if the outbreak gets worse, the clinic will need to hire more people.

Right now it is relying on donations from Canadians and volunteers to operate the clinic. She said she'll be staying in Haiti until Dec. 7.

Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It's contracted from drinking contaminated water or by eating contaminated food.

About five per cent of infected people become severely ill and develop profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps.

In severely ill people, cholera will cause rapid dehydration and shock. Untreated, cholera can cause death within hours. Most infected people don't get sick, although the bacterium can be present in their feces for up to two weeks.

At least 1,751 people have died of cholera in Haiti and more than 34,000 people have been hospitalized for cholera treatment since the outbreak began, the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency said Tuesday.

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