Officials in Haiti 'slow to respond' as cholera spreads
A LEADING Irish charity has criticised the reaction of the authorities in Haiti to an outbreak of cholera that has claimed more than 500 lives.
There is concern on the Caribbean island that the true extent of the disease has been grossly under-estimated, according to the non-governmental organisation Haven.
The charity planned to bring 600 volunteers to Haiti over the past two weeks for intensive construction projects but was forced to cancel the expeditions due to the outbreak of the disease.
The country's health ministry has announced that more than 500 people have now died. But John Wain, Haven's operations director, said there were widespread concerns amongst charities that the response was unco-ordinated and not as effective as it should be.
"The Haitian authorities were slow to react and take the necessary precautions to halt the spread of the infection," he said.
Cholera spreads through contaminated water and food, typically through faeces being washed into the groundwater.
"Markets were allowed to run, roads and borders remained open. People continued to move freely throughout the country," Mr Wain said.
"Reported case numbers are growing, however there is widespread concern that these figures do not represent the true number of cases because of a huge level of under-reporting, particularly from the rural areas," he added.
The epidemic adds to massive problems faced by the country following the earthquake in January, which killed 230,000.
And although the Haitian people had become "resilient" over the years, Mr Wain said their coping mechanisms were beginning to suffer.
"They are afraid. They see their friends and families getting sick, and they don't understand why," he said.
Meanwhile, the ongoing recession here has resulted in a rapid drop in the amount of donations received by charities around the country.
Haven said that while some €800,000 was given to an appeal following the earthquake, contributions have dropped off for the cholera outbreak.