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article imageHope rises for Haiti, OCHA says cholera containment working

By Stephanie Dearing     Oct 24, 2010 in World
Port-au-prince - Health officials have dreaded the spread of cholera to Haiti's capital, where up to a million people still live in tent cities which lack proper sanitation, and where many people cannot access clean and safe drinking water.
While five cholera cases have been confirmed to have been found in Haiti's captial, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said those cases were worrisome, but did not represent a spread of the disease. In spite of OCHA insistence that the five cases were "expected," and that "... The identification of the five cases in the capitol, while worrying, also demonstrates that the reporting systems for epidemic management are functioning," media outlets such as the AFP, are reporting that the cholera outbreak has spread to Port-au-Prince.
Health agencies have feared the spread of cholera to the capital, where it is thought around 1 million people are still living in tent cities. Miserable living conditions, a lack of sanitation and access to safe drinking water in Port-au-Prince is a daily reality for those people, Mother Jones reported earlier this month.
The cholera outbreak arose suddenly last week, killing over 100 people within two days. As of Friday, over 1,500 people sick with cholera were crowding hospitals in the cholera-stricken regions, which lie north of the capital.
The OCHA said attempts to contain the outbreak appeared to be successful, in spite of the fact that the planned 12 cholera treatment centers are still under construction.
The OCHA's situation update, issued on October 23, reported 208 deaths and 2,646 cases of cholera. OCHA said "The relatively small increase in the caseload today is a possible indication that some containment efforts may be taking effect."
The OCHA was quick to report the five cases confirmed in Port-au-Prince do not represent a spread of the disease. All the victims, the agency said, "... are people who contracted the illness in Artibonite and subsequently travelled to Port au Prince where they developed symptoms. These cases thus do not represent a spread of the epidemic because this is not a new location of infection. While a worrying development, it is not unexpected."
The state of emergency, declared by Haiti for the regions where the cholera first arose, is still in effect, and the rest of Haiti is still on high alert.
The OCHA also said "... St Nicholas Hospital in St Marc is now filled to capacity though and other health facilities are under strain to cope with the numbers of patients." Some might say this is an understatement, as first person reports from non-governmental agencies have reported the situation at the hospital in Saint Marc to be a nightmare scenario, with not enough beds for the ill, people being treated outside in the parking lot, and the gates of the hospital mobbed by people. As Doctors Without Borders said, "There are significant numbers of patients in St. Nicholas Hospital in St. Marc, which does not have the capacity to handle a cholera emergency.”
The world was quick to mobilize resources to fight this disease, which, the United Nations said, did not have to have deadly consequences, because the disease is treatable -- and preventable. On Friday, UN spokesperson Catherin Bragg said “The point here is that cholera deaths are preventable, and we are doing everything we can to assist the Haitian authorities to prevent further deaths."
Much of the aid has gone to Saint Marc, where the hospital has been the focus for ill patients. While there are isolated villages that have not received help, as reported by Operation Blessing International, it is unknown how many similar villages are needing assistance.
The twelve treatment centers, said OCHA, will be of varying sizes. While the OCHA has denied a spread of cholera to Port-au-Prince, it has said five treatment centers will be established in the capital, 'just in case.' The remaining seven treatment centers and six units will be established in Artibonite, with one center in the Central department.
While the OCHA and other agencies are focused providing help to Saint Marc and other cities, non-governmental organizations are travelling to villages in the cholera-stricken region to provide health care and clean water.
While the OCHA appears to think the worst of the outbreak might possibly be over, it is not yet time to breath a sigh of relief. Haiti's troubles are far from over, as Haitian Daniel Julian so graphically told Mother Jones, saying "... People forget that the day before the earthquake there were more NGOs operating in Haiti than any other country on the planet and it was still an unmitigated shithole and a horror. The idea that this will turn around in your lifetime is a fantasy—and a crime of gargantuan proportions."
Haiti will soon be headed to the polls to elect a new President. Voting will take place on November 28. In response to widespread concerns that the election "will neither be credible nor valid," the Organization of American States (OAS) has said it will be observing the elections.
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