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Cholera Outbreak In Haiti Shows ‘Slight Slowing,’ But Experts Say Interventions Should Continue

Nearly 300 people have died from cholera and 3,612 have been diagnosed with the disease in Haiti’s week-old epidemic, Reuters reports, citing numbers from Haitian health authorities. The news service reports that “the U.N., the [Haitian] government, and its foreign aid partners are expecting the disease to spread further in its epidemic phase. They have launched a combined treatment, containment and prevention strategy for the whole country.”

Michael Thieren, PAHO’s top official in Haiti, “said … a slight slowing in the rate of new deaths and cases was being observed in the main outbreak area of Artibonite, which he called encouraging and attributable in part to an aggressive multinational medical response” (Delva, 10/26).

ABC News examines the challenge of declaring a slowdown in the epidemic, reporting that “government organizations and many experts warn there are many reasons not to be fooled by the evident decline of people with physical symptoms of the so-called ‘silent’ disease,” because cholera can lay dormant in a patient for weeks. “Many of the unreported cases may be in rural areas in the central plateau region where most do not have access to chlorine tablets and are far from medical centers,” ABC News writes.

“[A] decrease in cases may result from human intervention and-or the natural ebbing of cholera … A major outbreak is still a possibility and the ‘full court press’ of public health interventions should not cease prematurely,” Stephen Jay, professor of medicine and public health at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said (Salahi, 10/27).

“With the epidemic reestablishing cholera in Haiti after a long absence, the disease would now become endemic, joining illnesses like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS which have been afflicting impoverished Haitians for years, Thieren said,” Reuters adds (10/26).

Agence France-Presse reports that the WHO predicts more cases of cholera would be found in Haiti “but ruled out the need” for travel or trade restrictions (10/26).  

Meanwhile, USAID “committed $100,000” to Haiti’s ministry of health in response to the cholera outbreak “as a first step to providing emergency support,” National Journal reports. The agency offered the money after the country’s recent “disaster declaration.”

The news service also looks at U.S. efforts to control cholera in the country writing, “A joint Haitian-U.S. epidemiological team has been dispatched to the area to help control the outbreak, to train health care providers on treatment protocols, and to find the source of the disease. USAID has provided 1,000 special cholera beds and other commodities to treat the disease and contain the outbreak, according to a U.S. Embassy press release” (Fung, 10/25).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.