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Haiti’s Cholera outbreak peak a month off

Haiti’s Cholera outbreak peak a month off – but death rate is down

Nov 24: UNICEF and its 70 partners are now fully mobilised against what is clearly one of the major outbreaks of cholera in recent history.

Haiti’s cholera outbreak is unlikely to peak until late December. Meanwhile, everything is being done to reduce the death toll, limit the number of people who catch the disease, and to treat the sick.

As of November 19, 56, 901 people sought care for episodes of cholera, 23817 cases requited hospitalisation and 1344 people had died. Around 200,000 people are expected to catch the disease.

Tensions around the presidential elections on November 28 led to deterioration of the security situation in the North.

Unrest in the north against UN troops, wrongly blamed for spreading the disease also hampered efforts. Testing has proved that UN troops did not bring cholera to Haiti.

Cities like Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital have serious gaps in sanitation. There are also serious concerns about funeral procedures– community wakes around bodies risk spreading the disease further. Mass graves are also undesirable, because sometimes they are close to water tables.

People have been issued with the basic cholera prevention tools – bars of soap, water treatment tablets and oral rehydration salts. Five thousand schools have been given such supplies. In some places, like hard-hit Artibonite, a water treatment unit has been installed. Otherwise, people use on water purification tablets or clean bought water.

UNICEF and the Haitian Government are also training teachers and social workers to explain basic messages to children and adults. Where there is already cholera in a school, it is disinfected, before learning is resumed. School water supplies and sanitation facilities are being upgraded.

Unfortunately, a recent survey showed that many Haitian people don’t understand that cholera is treatable and should not be fatal. Hand washing is not widely practised, the survey showed.

“The tools of cholera prevention are quite simple and the disease is largely treatable, but because it is essentially a new disease to Haiti and because of the inadequate state of drains, sewers and water supplies, it is a difficult place to prevent the spread of the disease,” said Dennis McKinlay, UNICEF NZ executive director.

“Both education and practices like water treatment are important. You have to change people’s practices and upgrade facilities, wherever possible. It is a multi-tiered approach.”

More medical staff, with experience in cholera treatment, are being sought both from within Haiti and without.

“A sign that UNICEF cholera-response is working is the reduced death rate in Artibonite. It peaked on 8-9 of November, and is now well under half what it was. The number of cases is also falling there,” he said. But when you see pieces of good news like, this you can’t rest on your laurels,” he said.

But as of November 20, only about 10% of the work has been done. As part of the response plan, UNICEF $US19.4 million for its programmes.

“The money UNICEF needs for its vital plans in containing the spread of cholera, and in treating cholera cases, to minimise the death toll, is only starting to come in,” Mr McKinlay said.


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