Cholera outbreak spreads closer to Haiti’s capital

A SPREADING cholera outbreak in rural Haiti threatened to outpace aid groups as they stepped up efforts at the weekend hoping to keep the disease from reaching the squalid camps of earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince.

Health officials said at least 208 people had died and 2,674 others were infected in an outbreak mostly centred in the Artibonite region north of the capital.

But the number of cases in towns near Port-au-Prince were rising, and officials worried the next target will be hundreds of thousands of Haitians left homeless by January’s devastating quake and now living in camps across the capital.

“If the epidemic makes its way to Port-au-Prince, where children and families are living in unsanitary, overcrowded camps, the results could be disastrous,” said Dr Estrella Serrano, World Vision’s emergency response health and nutrition manager.

Reports trickled in of patients seeking treatment in clinics closer to Port-au-Prince because the St Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St Marc is overflowing, said International Medical Corps spokeswoman Margaret Aguirre.

At least five people who travelled from the Artibonite region to Port-au-Prince on Saturday tested positive for cholera once they arrived in the capital, where they are being treated, she said. Aguirre said they are not considered the first cholera cases of Port-au-Prince because officials believe the people contracted the disease in Artibonite.

One doctor in the capital reported a 6-year-old girl from Port-au-Prince’s Carrefour district tested positive for cholera, although government health officials had not confirmed the case.

“The child was in very weak condition,” Dr Willy Lafond Edwight told The Associated Press. “She couldn’t stand up. She couldn’t even talk . . . I guarantee that if you find one case, many more cases will appear.”

Officials confirmed five cases in Arca haie, a town close to Port-au-Prince, and four cases in Limbe, a small northern municipality. Ten cases were reported in Gonaives, the largest city in the Artibonite, according to Partners in Health, a US-based humanitarian group.

Experts also were investigating possible cases in Croix-des-Bouquet, a suburb of the capital that could act as a transfer point of the disease because it has a widely used bus station, said Paul Namphy with Haiti’s national water agency.

Cholera is a waterborne bacterial infection, and the water agency was nearly doubling the amount of chlorine in drinking water.

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