Haiti Cholera outbreaks kills 200

A top health ministry official in Haiti has said the country has now suffered more than 200 deaths as a result of a recent outbreak of cholera.

Cholera can kill within hours if not treated in time. AFP

The announcement Saturday came as the disease began to spread outside the rural Artibonite region, intensifying concerns that it could reach camps that house hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors in the capital.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had earlier confirmed that 194 people had died and 2,364 had been sickened in the outbreak.

The first two cholera cases outside Artibonite were confirmed in Arcahaie, a town closer to the capital, Port-au-Prince. Experts were also investigating possible cases in Croix-des-Bouquet, a suburb of the capital, and radio reports said there were two dozen cases of diarrhoea on Gonave island.

Aid groups and the government were rushing medical teams, medicine, clean water and water purification to the affected areas. The health ministry also declared a state of emergency in Artibonite.

‘Very dangerous’

If the disease spreads into camps where those left homeless by the January 12 earthquake are sheltering, a public health crisis could be imminent. Sanitation in the camps is poor and the displaced have little access to clean water.

Association, said. “Port-au-Prince already has more than 2.4 million people, and the way they are living is dangerous enough already. Clearly a lot more needs to be done.”

This is the first time cholera has struck Haiti since 1960, according to the UN.

More than 250,000 people were killed in the earthquake and another 1.2 million left homeless.

The Lower Artibonite region, where the outbreak is centred so far, was not significantly damaged in the quake, but it is housing thousands of refugees from the capital, 70km south of Saint Marc.

Medical facilities in the port city of Saint Marc are overcrowded with patients suffering from dehydration and diarrhoea.

‘Completely dehydrated’

Jille Sanatus, a 55-year-old, was brought in by his son, Jordany. A doctor was struggling to stick a needle into his arm to place a drip.

“He’s completely dehydrated, so it’s difficult. It’s hard to find the vein,” Doctor Roasana Casimir said.

Casimir finally penetrated the vein and fluid began to trickle in, but half an hour later Sanatus was dead.

Two hospital employees carried the body to the morgue behind the hospital and placed it on the ground for the family to reclaim for a funeral.

Sanatus’ son said the family had been drinking water from a river that the health minister has said tested positive for cholera.

Officials urged residents to take preventative action.

“One of the simplest things they can do is frequent handwashing. Personal hygiene. That does wonders,” Doctor Jon Andrus, the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organisation, said.

“Chlorine is being provided so to take advantage of those measures that will ensure that anything ingested whether it be water or food is properly prepared and that the source of the water is safe and adequately treated.”

Andrus said the number of cases will continue to grow because Haitians do not have any built-up immunity to cholera.

“As we know from our experience, with situations of cholera where there is no infrastructure to deal with the crisis, it just gets much worse. We have to expect that and react to it.”

Unclean water

Cholera is transmitted by water but also by food that has been in contact with unclean water contaminated by cholera bacteria. The disease is easily treatable by rehydration and antibiotics but can kill within hours if not treated.

With a health system already in crisis, the outbreak is posing a serious threat to Haiti.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Only about $95 per person is spent on health care each year, and the country is heavily dependent on international relief organisations to provide medical aid.

The earthquake, which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, dealt another blow to an already battered system.

The disaster destroyed 60 per cent of the existing health facilities in the worst affected areas and 10 per cent of medical staff were either killed or left the country, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

About one million Haitians, or about 10 per cent of the population, are living with little or no sanitation.