AT LEAST 142 people have died in a cholera outbreak, and aid groups were rushing in medicine and other supplies yesterday to combat Haiti’s deadliest health problem since its devastating earthquake.
The outbreak in the rural Artibonite region, which hosts thousands of quake refugees, appeared to confirm relief groups’ fears about sanitation for homeless survivors living in tarp cities and other squalid settlements.
“We have been afraid of this since the earthquake,” said Robin Mahfood, president of Food for the Poor, which was preparing to fly in donations of antibiotics, dehydration salts and other supplies.
Many of the sick have converged on St Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St Marc, where hundreds of dehydrated patients lay on blankets in a parking lot with IVs in their arms as they waited for treatment.
Health Ministry director Gabriel Thimothe said laboratory tests confirmed that the illness is cholera. He said yesterday 142 people have died and more than a thousand infected people were hospitalised.
The president of the Haitian Medical Association, Claude Surena, said people must be vigilant about hygiene and wash their hands frequently to slow the spread of the disease.
“The concern is that it could go from one place to another place, and it could affect more people or move from one region to another one,” he said.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours. Treatment involves administering a salt and sugar-based rehydration serum.
No cholera outbreaks had been reported in Haiti for decades before the earthquake, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Haitian officials, including President René Préval, have been pointing to the lack of severe disease outbreaks as a hard-to-see success of the quake response.
With more than a million people left homeless by the disaster, however, experts have warned that disease could strike in the makeshift camps with nowhere to put human waste and limited access to clean water.
At the hospital, some patients including 70-year-old Belismene Jean Baptiste said they got sick after drinking water from a public canal.
“I ran to the bathroom four times last night vomiting,” Jean Baptiste said.
The sick come from across the Artibonite Valley, an area that has absorbed thousands of refugees.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved