UN, partners step up response to cholera epidemic in Haiti

08:21, October 26, 2010      

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The spread of the cholera outbreak in Haiti is beginning to slow down, as humanitarian agencies continue to step up treatment and preventive measures, the United Nations reported on Monday.

Efforts to contain the spread of the disease are the top priority for humanitarian agencies, which are trying to prevent the epidemic from reaching camps housing up to a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) left homeless by the massive earthquake in January, which devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and several other cities.

"In Haiti, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, as of yesterday, 254 deaths had been reported due to cholera, while 3,015 cases have been confirmed," Martin Nesirky, the UN spokesman, told a news briefing here.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking contaminated with the bacterium known vibrio cholerae. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea which can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not quickly treated. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.

"The Office adds that the number of new cases reported is starting to slow down. However, preparations to respond to a greater number of cases across the country are ongoing," he said.

"The United Nations is airlifting chlorine bags to all water pipeline systems in the affected areas and providing overland transport and storage in support of aid," the spokesman said. " Measures are also being put in place to respond to a potential increase in numbers and to other parts of the country, including Port-au-Prince."

OCHA said that new cholera treatment facilities are being set up and that hygiene promotion and awareness campaigns are ongoing.

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is helping the National Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation (DINEPA) to distribute more than 800 kilograms of chlorine powder to piped water distribution points in some of the worst affected areas along the Artibonite river, according to OCHA.

Humanitarian agencies in the water and sanitation cluster are working to ensure that people have access to clean water, assessing hygiene conditions at water points, distributing soap and carrying out an awareness campaign in affected and at-risk areas.

They have particularly targeted the 17 communal sections along the Artibonite river, which is believed to be the source of the epidemic, for distributions of water purification tablets, soap and oral rehydration salts.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) has commenced the distribution of ready-to-eat meals as well as high energy biscuits to hospitals in affected areas, in en effort to ensure people do not eat food that could have been cooked with contaminated water.

Outstanding needs in the efforts to contain the spread of the disease include additional medical personnel in Artibonite, support for the public information campaign on prevention and response, and facilities in which patients with confirmed symptoms can be isolated as they receive treatment.

Source: Xinhua


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