Cholera outbreak prompts Haiti to declare health emergency

17:16, October 25, 2010      

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About 253 people have died from a cholera epidemic in Haiti, and more than 3,115 others were infected in the worst public health disaster to strike the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation in years. Patients suffering from diarrhea and other cholera symptoms are helped by other residents as they wait for treatment at the St. Nicholas hospital in Saint Marc, Haiti on Oct.24, 2010. (Source: Xinhua News Agency/Reuters Photo)

The death toll from a recent cholera outbreak in Haiti has risen to 253, and the country announced a state of emergency on Oct. 24.

Gabriel Thimote, director-general of Haiti's Health Department, told a press conference that a total of 3,115 cholera cases have been reported so far in the impoverished island nation, which is still recovering from January's devastating earthquake.

"We have registered a diminishing number of deaths and hospitalized people in the most critical areas. The tendency is that it is stabilizing without being able to say that we have reached a peak," said Thimote.

Health officials said most of the death cases were reported in the Artibonite region, north of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

They also said at least five people tested positive for cholera in Port-au-Prince, where about 1.3 million survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake were packed in squalid camps.

U.N. officials said the five cases, the first confirmed in the capital since the epidemic started, were people who had become infected in the main outbreak zone of Artibonite before they traveled to the capital.

Haitian President Rene Preval said on Sunday that the cholera epidemic affecting the country "was imported."

"It would be irresponsible and dangerous" to identify a country as the source of the outbreak, Preval told a Haitian radio station during his tour to Artibonite.

Preval said that he had traveled to the most affected regions to meet with the local sanitary authorities "to learn about the problems and take the necessary measures" to face this situation.

The president urged Haitians to adopt hygiene measures to fight this disease. However, simple measures such as washing hands have become difficult as most people do not have access to clean water.

"Help yourself and help the State," Preval said, urging the media to help his government with a campaign informing the people about the basic measures they should take to avoid being infected by this disease.

Haiti is now scrambling to contain the worst health emergency since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January killed about 250,000 people and also the first cholera epidemic in the country in a century.

For months, international aid organizations have warned that any outbreak of disease in Haiti could spread rapidly due to poor sanitary conditions in the camps, where people have little access to clean water.

Cholera, a waterborne bacterial infection, is transmitted mainly through drinking contaminated water and unsanitary conditions. The Artibonite River, which irrigates Haiti's rural center and provides water for thousands of people, is believed to be contaminated.

The cholera epidemic also caused concerns in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which has raised its vigilance to red level along its 360-kilometer border in order to prevent a spillover.

The international community has mobilized its resources to help the Haitian government tackle the outbreak of cholera with medical supplies being provided and teams of health workers rushing to the affected areas.
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