Haiti health officials fear epidemic as cholera hits capital
Hopes of stopping Haiti's cholera outbreak from turning into an epidemic were fading yesterday, as the disease has begun to infect residents of the densely populated tent cities of Port-au-Prince, where more than a million homeless people are still living as a result of January's earthquake.
Health officials confirmed their worst fears of the disease spreading to the capital, when tests revealed that it had infected a three-year-old boy who hadn't left the city since cholera was first recorded in Haiti just over a fortnight ago.
Previously, the handful of cases in Port-au-Prince came from citizens who had recently arrived there from the mostly rural central region, where the outbreak is thought to have started at the end of October.
Nationwide, the official death toll has now passed 500. In Raboteau, a seaside slum in the north, rubbish trucks were patrolling the streets clearing up unclaimed bodies.
Doctors had run out of rehydration drips, so were referring patients to the hospital in Gonaives, where a reporter spoke of scores of patients lying outside on stretchers, expelling diarrhoea "clear as water" into buckets.
Haiti's Health Ministry has announced a state of emergency, saying the disease poses a threat to the security of the population of just under 10 million. They urged citizens to observe basic hygiene rules and not to drink unpurified water.
According to official figures, there have been 544 deaths and 8,000 cases of the disease since it was first identified on October 27. However those numbers are likely to be out of date, since it takes several days of laboratory tests to confirm each case.
At the La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince, Amanda George, an aid worker from the British Red Cross, said her medical team had already treated roughly 40 people who were suspected of having cholera.
"A couple of days ago, we saw the first ones arrive in our observation centre," she said. "We've got people losing fluids everywhere. Some of the patients, particularly children, look very ill."
The return of the disease, eliminated from Haiti 30 years ago, adds yet another problem to the list affecting the nation, which lost almost 300,000 people in January's earthquake.
It could also pose a logistical challenge to the scheduled presidential elections on November 28; although the UN said yesterday it intends to make sure the vote goes ahead. (© Independent News Service)