As humanitarian officials in Haiti try to describe their concern about a new, fast-spreading cholera epidemic, they struggle to find words strong enough: “alarming,” “chaotic.” , even “catastrophe”.
A large portion of the island’s population has been isolated – and without access to health care – due to severe fuel shortages or because of the brutal armed gangs that control large areas.
And no health careCholera patients, who have acute diarrhea, can die from dehydration within hours.
“It was a disaster. We were overwhelmed,” Dr. Jean William Pape told AFP. His NGO, Gheskio, runs two of the country’s 15 cholera treatment centers.
In one of them, in the capital, Port-au-Prince, “we have 80 beds, and they’re all occupied,” he says. “Due to the lack of fuel, people in the slums have told me that there have been several deaths in their area, because it is not possible to transport the sick.”
An armed gang has for weeks blockaded a key fuel station in Varreux, north of the capital, exacerbating the country’s paralysis.
United Nations peacekeepers introduced cholera into Haiti in 2010, eventually resulting in thousands of deaths.
But, until latest outbreakNo cases of the disease have been reported in Haiti since 2019.
As of Wednesday, 33 cholera deaths and 960 suspected cases have been recorded by the health ministry.
According to Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Haiti, that number could drastically reduce the problem.
The situation is even worse, experts say, because even severe cases of cholera can be easily treated with rest and rehydration for a few days, and a cholera vaccine is available.
However, that vaccine was only effective for about five years, and the last major targeted vaccination campaign in Haiti was in 2017.
Children are hard working
About half of the cases here involve children under the age of 14, who are particularly vulnerable when their immune systems are weakened by poor nutrition due to poverty.
Dr Pape said: “Many of them are very poorly nourished, adding that it is very difficult to find their veins for intravenous fluids.
The United Nations estimates that 4.7 million Haitians, nearly half the country’s population, are severely food insecure.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) operates four centers with a total of 250 beds and about 20 rehydration clinics, deputy mission chief Moha Zemrag told AFP.
He said the first priority was to ensure access to Clean water in gang-controlled areas such as the Brooklyn neighborhood of the capital’s Cite Soleil commune, where there are no soft drink in three months.
Cholera is caused by drinking water or food contaminated with a bacteria called Vibrio cholerae.
The high risk of kidnapping by gangs has prevented aid groups from entering these areas to disinfect homes and buildings with chlorine.
While MSF has set up a shuttle system to safely get its staff to treatment centers, fuel shortages could make this impossible “within weeks” , said Zemrag.
Rural residents are also worried, who without access to fuel may have to walk for days to get help. Initial cases have been detected in the southern region of Nippes and in Artibonite in the north.
Armed groups are now blocking highways leading to both the north and south, Maes said.
“Port-au-Prince is literally besieged, strangled,” he said.
UNICEF offices have been looted, and shipments of medicine have been blocked off at the port.
The return of cholera has revived horrifying memories of the pandemic introduced by the United Nations peacekeepers in green hats in 2010, after a major earthquake devastated the country. The disease has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people between then and 2019.
But conditions are different today, said Sylvain Aldighieri, the Inter-American Health Organization’s deputy director for public health emergencies.
“At the moment, we don’t see an explosion (under the circumstances) like we observed in the first months” of 2010, he said.
He said the authorities have “10 years of experience with cholera“and the key now is to “reactivate the mechanisms” that worked before.
However, doing so will present challenges.
The United Nations on Friday imposed sanctions, including an arms embargo, on several gangs. But distinctions remain over whether to send a new international force to the country.
Such a force, Aldighieri said, could establish “humanitarian corridors for disadvantaged areas” and help free supplies currently blocked in ports.
For now, additional cargo planes are expected to take place in the coming days, he added.
© 2022 AFP
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