Cholera Kills 138 People, More Than 1,500 Other Cases Reported, Haitian Health Ministry Officials Say

“Haitian Health Ministry officials have informed the World Health Organization that 138 deaths are a part of a fast-moving cholera outbreak north of Port-au-Prince, a U.N. official said,” CNN reports. In addition to the deaths, 1,526 cases of cholera have been reported in the Lower Artibonite region, said Imogen Wall, the U.N. humanitarian spokesperson in Haiti. “This is a situation that’s developed very quickly. It’s only been 48 hours, and we’ve already got 138 deaths confirmed,” Wall said (10/22).

According to Wall, the WHO and U.N. have not yet confirmed cholera as the cause and are awaiting results from laboratory tests on samples taken from the dead and the sick, Reuters reports (Delva, 10/21).

“No cholera outbreaks had been reported in Haiti for decades before the earthquake, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Haitian officials, including President Rene Preval, have been pointing to the lack of severe disease outbreaks as a hard-to-see success of the quake response,” the Associated Press writes (Kushner, 10/22).

Michel Thieren, a physician with the Pan American Health Organization, “described the outbreak as ‘severe,’ and noted that officials were still trying to track how far it had spread,” according to CNN. “This is an unprecedented episode of cholera, and the government needs a lot of support, and they need to be vigilant in how they respond,” Thieren said (10/22).

On Wednesday, U.N. aid workers said they were investigating disease outbreaks in the town of St. Marc and the Arbonite, the Canadian Press reports. “The Artibonite is Haiti’s most important farming region. The area was not severely damaged in the Jan. 12 earthquake but received thousands of refugees from the wrecked capital to the south, many of whom stayed” (Katz, 10/21). 

Agence France-Presse notes: “Aid agencies have voiced fears for months that any outbreak of disease could spread rapidly due to the unsanitary conditions in the camps where people have little access to clean water. International agencies have swung into action, mobilizing medical personnel to try to contain the spread of the disease and treat the sick. ‘We are evaluating the situation on the ground with the international partners and the Haitian health authorities,’ said Fanny Devoucoux from the French aid organization Acted” (Renois, 10/21).

“The outbreak could be another failure on a growing list that has many here, and elsewhere in the world, wondering if the United Nations and its secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, are fulfilling its humanitarian role,” GlobalPost writes in an article examining criticisms of the U.N.’s approach to Haiti after the earthquake. “Despite the scale of tragedy, some analysts have likened Ban’s response to that of President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina: slow, underwhelming and off-message.”

Farhan Haq, Ban’s acting deputy spokesperson, pointed out, “As for the compound, the main U.N. compound in Haiti was itself destroyed in the earthquake. The United Nations is hardly disconnected from the reality faced by Haitians, having itself lost 101 staff” (O’Connor, 10/21).

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