Dr. Gabriel Timothée, the head of Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), announced on Oct. 23 that there were 208 confirmed deaths so far from a cholera epidemic that apparently broke out in the Lower Artibonite River region just a few days earlier. Of these, 194 deaths were in the western Artibonite region and 14 in Mirebalais in the Central Plateau, including three detainees in the Mirebalais prison. Fifty prisoners were infected, and a total of 288 people were hospitalized in Mirebalais; the number of people hospitalized in the northwest was 2,394. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Oct. 23)
United Nations officials announced on Oct. 24 that five cases of cholera had been detected in Port-au-Prince, where about a quarter of the country’s 8 million people live. More than a million Port-au-Prince area residents have been living in temporary encampments since Jan. 12, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of the city and the surrounding region.
Cholera progresses rapidly, with severe diarrhea leading to death through dehydration. Most cases can be treated by administering rehydration packets, although some patients require antibiotics and intravenous rehydration. Good sanitation measures can largely prevent the spread of the disease. Observers are concerned that international aid agencies in Haiti will be slow to mobilize the resources needed to treat the patients, and that the crowded, unsanitary conditions in the camps could allow the disease to spread uncontrollably in the capital.
This is Haiti’s first cholera outbreak in more than 50 years. Many people suspect that the cause was the dumping of raw sewage in the Artibonite River and recent flooding after heavy rains. The Lower Artibonite region, once known “the breadbasket” because of its rice farming, was hit hard economically by competition from cheap US rice imports after the Haitian government lowered rice tariffs in 1995 under pressure from the government of US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001). (BBC News, Oct. 24; Inter Press Service, Oct. 24)
While there seem to be no resources for sewage treatment facilities on the Artibonite River, one of the international community’s planned post-earthquake reconstruction projects is a $190 million hydroelectric dam on the upper part of the river.
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 24.
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