24 Oct 2010 00:05:42 GMT
* Five sick in capital came from infected central zone
* Capital's slums, earthquake survivor camps vulnerable
* Aid agencies increase prevention, surveillance steps
* Biggest medical crisis in Haiti since Jan. 12 quake (Recasts with
confirmation of cases found in the capital)
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The death toll from a cholera
epidemic in Haiti topped 200 on Saturday and fears of it propagating in
the crowded, earthquake-ravaged capital increased after five cases were
detected in the city.
U.N. officials stressed that the five cases, the first confirmed in the
capital since the epidemic started, were people who had become infected
in the main outbreak zone of Artibonite north of Port-au-Prince and had
subsequently traveled to the city where they fell sick.
"They were very quickly diagnosed and isolated," U.N. humanitarian
spokeswoman Imogen Wall told Reuters, citing information from Haitian
health authorities. "This is not a new location of infection."
But prevention measures and surveillance were being increased in
Port-au-Prince, with its squalid sprawling slums and about 1.3 million
survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake packed into tent and tarpaulin
camps. All are highly vulnerable to a virulent diarrheal disease like
With more than 2,600 cholera cases reported and experts predicting the
numbers will rise, Haitian and international medical teams are working
desperately to isolate and contain the epidemic in the Artibonite and
Central Plateau regions, north of the rubble-strewn capital.
It is the worst medical emergency to strike the poor, disaster-prone
Caribbean nation since the earthquake killed up to 300,000 people and
is also the first cholera epidemic in Haiti in a century.
Haitian health officials told a news conference on Saturday that 194
people had died from cholera in the Artibonite region, the main
outbreak zone, with 14 other deaths in neighboring Central Plateau,
where a prison was among places affected.
The total number of cases had reached 2,674.
Cholera, transmitted by contaminated water and food, can kill in hours
if left untreated, through dehydration. But it can be treated easily
with oral rehydration salts or just a simple mix of water, sugar and
salt. TV and radio adds in Creole recommended that treatment to the
Besides rushing doctors, medicine and water supplies to the affected
areas, Wall said the U.N. and aid agencies were identifying sites in
Port-au-Prince where any cholera patients could be treated in tent
clinics, separate from hospitals.
"If we have cases in Port-au-Prince, the only way to contain them is to
isolate them," Wall said.
"Obviously, preventing the disease spreading to the city is an
absolutely paramount concern right now," she said.
'NO SAFETY CORDON'
Daniel Rouzier, chairman of the Board of Trustees of U.S.-based charity
Food for the Poor, earlier told Reuters he had learned of the five
cholera cases at private clinics in the capital. "It was not originally
in the geographical area of the camps. Now it is," he said.
Rouzier, whose charity has sent water purification units to the
cholera-infected central zones, faulted the Haitian government and its
aid partners for not moving quickly and effectively enough to contain
and isolate the epidemic.
"Right now, it's been over 72 hours. There is no safety cordon," he
said. "If the sick had the proper healthcare where they were, they
wouldn't have come to this chaotic city."
Aid workers in the town of Saint-Marc, in the heart of the Artibonite
outbreak zone, have reported the main local hospital overflowing with
patients, many lying outside in the compound hooked up to intravenous
Haiti is due to hold presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 28
but it is not clear whether the epidemic could threaten the
organization of the vote.
In the crowded camps that fill squares, streets, parks and even a golf
course in Port-au-Prince, fears of contracting the disease are running
"All we can do is pray to God because if we catch this disease in these
camps, it will be a real disaster," said Helen Numa, 35. "You can see
for yourself how people are living here, packed in like sardines."
Haitian Health Minister Alex Larsen has urged people to wash their
hands with soap, not eat raw vegetables, boil all food and drinking
water and avoid bathing in and drinking from rivers. The Artibonite
River, which irrigates all of central Haiti, is believed to be
But many in the capital's camps said they did not have money to buy
soap and chlorine to apply hygiene measures.
"We don't have anything, not even one dollar, because we don't have
jobs," said Marjorie Lebrun, 45. "I'm afraid if I and my five children
get sick, we could die."
Wall said the relief effort in Haiti had enough antibiotics to treat
100,000 cases of cholera and intravenous fluids to treat 30,000. But
those would need replenishing. (Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher
in Miami; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Peter Cooney)
For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit www.alertnet.org