Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Aid Workers in Haiti Rush to Contain Cholera

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Aid Workers in Haiti Rush to Contain Cholera

Article excerpt

The Haitian government announced Tuesday that a 3-year-old in Port-au-Prince tested positive for cholera. Officials suspect dozens of other cases across the earthquake-ravaged city.

With the first official case of cholera diagnosed by doctors in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, and dozens of other cases suspected, officials and nongovernmental organizations are rushing to contain a potential outbreak.

The devastated city of about 3 million, half of whom are still homeless after the Jan. 12 earthquake, will be a formidable obstacle for groups trying to put preventive measures in place. Aid workers and officials say that in shantytowns and tent cities that sprung up after the quake, hundreds of thousands are without access to clean water and sanitation or proper medical care.

But unlike the outbreak that began in the Artibonite Valley, in the northern half of the country, late last month, officials have been able to prepare for a possible outbreak in the capital.

"The government finally announced ... that it has reached Port- au-Prince, which is a good start and means that NGOs, too, are starting to meet with affected communities and acknowledge it," says Kara Gibson, the medical director of Samaritan's Purse, an NGO providing medical aid to the Cite Soleil shantytown, near where the first case of cholera was diagnosed.

IN PICTURES: Tropical storm Tomas

Concern about flooding from Hurricane Tomas

The government said Tuesday that a 3-year-old living in a camp near Cite Soleil, who had not left the vicinity of Port-au-Prince, tested positive for cholera. There are dozens of other suspected cases across the city, but numbers vary between government officials and organizations. It could also be days before the extent of the outbreak is known, as there is a lag in results from the testing laboratory.

Across the country, more than 580 people have died and over 9,000 cases are suspected in 10 regions. Officials say they worry that flooding provoked by Hurricane Tomas over the weekend could speed the spread of the disease.

Health workers are bracing to meet what they expect will be a sharp demand for help. "We expect transmission to be extensive, and we have to be prepared for it, there's no question," Jon Andrus, deputy director for the Pan-American Health Organization, said Tuesday. "We have to prepare for a large upsurge in numbers of cases and be prepared with supplies and human resources and everything that goes into a rapid response."

Groups working across the capital

Groups have been working across the capital to contain cholera, which is spread through contaminated water and food, teaching residents to employ preventive measures, especially washing hands and thoroughly cooking food. They are also setting up clinics.

The director of communications for Doctors Without Borders, Isabelle Jeanson, says their group has treatment centers operating all over the affected parts of the country and within four areas of Port-au-Prince. …

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