PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, Sept 7, CMC – A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies say they fear a resurgence of the cholera epidemic following passage of Tropical Storm Isaac last weekend.
They say the storm which killed at least 24 people in the earthquake-ravaged French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country, has reignited fears that the floods and rains could accelerate a peak in cholera deaths and infections, according to aid agencies.
Even worse, they say the deadly diarrheal disease could spread to the sprawling tent cities in the capital, more than 300,000 homeless people live.
“Today with the situation in the camps, it is clear they are most at risk,” said Yolette Etienne, Oxfam’s programme director, while Oliver Schulz, the country manager of the Paris based Doctors Without Borders said “we can assume there is going to be an increase in patients”.
“The storm increases the risk,” Schulz said, noting that while cholera is easily preventable, it is also easy to contract, especially when heavy rains and floods limit access to clean water.
“You might have a nice distribution of soap for instance, but if you don’t have clean water to wash your hands, the soap is useless,” he said.
The Boston, Massachusetts-based Partners in Health, says it has put its staff on notice and relocated supplies from Port Au Prince to rural areas where many people lack access to potable water and health facilities.
Dr. Louise Ivers of Partners In Health, which just completed a pilot cholera vaccination programme in Haiti, said the group has yet to see a spike but remains deeply concerned about the epidemic’s impact.
Figures released by Haiti’s Health Ministry indicate that although the number of cases is “significantly fewer than this time last year” Haitians continue to die at an unacceptable rate.
“The proportion of people dying is in some areas higher than before,” Ivers said, adding that there “is a continued lack of access to quality services in some areas.
“In theory, no one reaching a hospital should die of cholera,” she said.
Haiti’s Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume said the government is equally concerned about cholera-related deaths, as well as infections.
He said hospital pantries are stocked with chlorine tablets, bottled water and oral rehydration salts.
“All is well positioned for the prevention and care of patients,” Guillaume said.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that living conditions in many of the 575 camps have deteriorated to the point where Haitians remain “extremely vulnerable” to cholera, adding that the government is unable to effectively address a crisis on its own.
“The resurgence of the cholera outbreak is particularly worrying since non-governmental organizations, which responded at the beginning of the epidemic, are phasing out due to lack of funding,? Ban said.
He said this is especially true in flooded communities, where the drinking water is at risk of becoming contaminated by wastewater from latrines.
Health experts and NGOs say the annual Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, has become a painful reminder of not just how environmentally fragile Haiti is, but how susceptible Haitians are to contracting cholera, the deadly waterborne epidemic that arrived in impoverished country two years.
UN troops from Nepal have been accused of bringing cholera to Haiti after the Artibonite River, located near the troops’ latrines, became contaminated with the cholera bacteria.
Cholera has killed more than 7,500 Haitians and sickened more than 588,000 in what has been described as one of the worst epidemics in recent years.