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Haiti 'unprepared' for cholera resurgence

The onset of the rainy season means an increase in cholera, but the country is not prepared for this, Médecins Sans Frontières has said.

Image: Médecines Sans Frontieres

HAITI IS NOT prepared for a resurgance of cholera, doctors in the country have said.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said today that the country “is not adequately prepared” to combat the deadly disease, which is on the rise following the onset of rainy season.

It said that:

While Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Populations claims to be in control of the situation, health facilities in many regions of the country remain incapable of responding to the seasonal fluctuations of the cholera epidemic. The surveillance system, which is supposed to monitor the situation and raise the alarm, is still dysfunctional.

The number of people treated by MSF alone in the capital, Portau-Prince, has quadrupled in less than a month, reaching 1,600 cases in April.

MSF said it has increased treatment capacity in the city and in the town of Léogâne, and is preparing to open additional treatment sites in the country.  Nearly 200,000 cholera cases were reported between May and October last year.

Gaëtan Drossart, MSF head of mission in Haiti, said:

Too little has been done in terms of prevention to think that cholera would not surge again in 2012. It is concerning that the health authorities are not better prepared and that they cling to reassuring messages that bear no resemblance to reality. There are many meetings going on between the government, the United Nations and their humanitarian partners, but there are few concrete solutions.

Maya Allan, an MSF epidemiologist, said that rainfall is one of the risk factors for contamination, but as soon as rains end, cholera subsides and funding stops until the next rainy season. She said that this occurs instead of money being channeled towards cholera prevention activities, meaning people are vulnerable when the cholera comes back.

According to MSF, the majority of Haitians do not have access to latrines, and obtaining clean water is a daily challenge.

The cholera vaccination being used in some parts of Haiti can help control the disease, but “it is not a foolproof solution” said MSF, which added the vaccine provides immunity for approximately three years and is estimated to be only 70 percent effective.

Only major improvements of Haiti’s water and sanitation systems will provide durable solutions to the epidemic, but that will take time.

Since cholera emerged in Haiti in October 2010, 535,000 people have been infected and more than 7,000 people have died. MSF has treated around one-third of total cases – 170,000 people – across Haiti.

Read: GOAL warns that Haiti could face second cholera outbreak>

Read: Half a million people still living in camps in Haiti>

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