Sunday, April 21, 2024

Help Haiti! UN urges

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PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – An epidemiologist at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the death toll from cholera in Haiti has reached 800 as the United Nations Friday renewed its call for more financial assistance to battle the outbreak.
Speaking by telephone to delegates attending a medical conference in the United States, Dr. Ezra Barzilay, said that while on Monday there had been 640 confirmed deaths, the figure reached 800 on Thursday.
Dr. Barzilay said he was also concerned about the risk of transmission to the United States and other countries even as the United Nations appealed for nearly US$164 million to fight the cholera outbreak.
UN spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said that unless the funds were provided “all our efforts can be outrun by the epidemic”.
She said the disease had so far infected at least 11 125 people in five of Haiti’s ten districts.
Aid agencies are battling to contain cholera in the capital Port-au-Prince, amid fears it will spread through camps housing more than one million earthquake survivors.
The UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the funds will be used to bring in more doctors, medicines and water-purification equipment.
“We absolutely need this money as soon as possible,” Byrs said.
The World Health Organisation said on Friday it did not expect the epidemic to end soon.
“The projections of 200 000 cases over the next six to 12 months shows the amplitude of what could be expected,” said spokesman Gregory Hartl.
He said that the current fatality rate of 6.5 per cent was far higher than it should be.
“No-one in Haiti has experienced cholera before, so it is a population which is very susceptible to the bacteria,” he said. “Once it is in water systems it transmits very easily.”
The disease is spread by contaminated drinking water or food, but is treatable with oral or intravenous rehydration and antibiotics.
Haitian government and humanitarian agencies were continuing their efforts to contain the water borne disease that surfaced here late in October.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said that more than 11,000 patients have been treated in hospitals since the first case was reported last month.
“The initial swift and effective response launched by the national authorities, combined with the stocks and expertise that humanitarian organizations already had in-country, has without doubt saved lives,” Fisher said.
Government efforts have been focused on providing clean water, particularly in the central region and the greater Port-au-Prince area, and on purifying water supplies in all departments. The humanitarian community has deployed water and sanitation experts to support Government teams verifying water quality around the country. Nearly half a million water tablets, soap and oral rehydration salts are being distributed, targeting areas where cholera has already been detected.
Cholera treatment centres are now open in 15 urban centres across the country, including seven in Port-au-Prince. “A major effort has already been made, but the sheer quantity of relief items that need to be delivered in the days and weeks ahead is going to require more logistical and financial support for the Government by all humanitarian agencies and donors and very close coordination. Without this, the epidemic could outrun our efforts,” Fisher said.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has, meanwhile, distributed nearly 7,000 hygiene kits since the beginning of this month, targeting pregnant women and people living with HIV/AIDS. More than 3,500 pregnant women and 720 people living with HIV/AIDS based in Miragoâne, Les Cayes, St. Marc and Gonaïves have received the kits, which contain basic personal hygiene items and chlorine to prevent cholera, in addition to flashlights and blankets. “We are currently focusing on the Department of Artibonite in central Haiti, particularly the city of Gonaïves, where flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas is feeding fears that the cholera epidemic may spread,” said Igor Bosc, UNFPA Representative in Haiti.
“We have strengthened our presence in Haiti’s fourth largest city, alongside the Directorate for Civilian Protection, in order to better coordinate the humanitarian response.” Bosc said that UNFPA will also strengthen the Jérémie maternity facility in Grand’Anse in south-western Haiti to protect pregnant women from cholera. The agency was already delivering hygiene materials and reproductive health kits to the clinic.
The kits include a wide range of items, such as supplies for home and institution childbirth, oral and injectable contraceptives, male condoms, emergency contraception, supplies for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, supplies needed in case of miscarriage and other complications, as well as supplies for vaginal examinations, Caesarean section delivery and blood transfusions.
Meanwhile, officials in the Dominica Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti,  have announced new health measures to try to keep the cholera outbreak from spreading as they re-open four popular outdoor markets along the border.
Health Minister Bautista Rojas said bathrooms, hand-washing stations and makeshift clinics were set up near vendor stalls, and hospitals have been equipped to prepare for possible cases.
Border-crossers will be asked to fill out a form stating whether they have had any symptoms associated with the disease.
Rojas said Haitian merchants will be limited to certain areas and Dominican soldiers will enforce the restrictions. Previously, Haitian vendors had been allowed to set up stalls not only in the marketplaces but also in nearby streets.
Rojas said no cholera cases have been reported in the Dominican Republic. (CMC)

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