Wednesday 29 January 2020

Haiti braces for cholera as hurricane-battered country counts its dead

A woman carries her belongings in Jeremie, Haiti. Photo: Getty Images
A woman carries her belongings in Jeremie, Haiti. Photo: Getty Images

David McFadden

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday that it was sending one million doses of cholera vaccine to Haiti, where cases of the killer disease have climbed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

"The top priority for those people affected by the hurricane is to give them access to clean water. That is the only way we can control cholera," Dominique Legros, WHO cholera expert, told a news briefing before travelling to the Caribbean country.

Some 150 suspected cholera cases have been reported in Grande'Anse department and 50 in South department, he said. "It is more than usual, I know it is a sharp increase compared to usual figures."

WHO was considering giving people a single dose of the vaccine rather than the classic double dose, to cover more people, albeit with a shorter protection period, Legros said.

Meanwhile, in Dame Marie, 300 patients with festering wounds lay silently on beds at the main hospital in the seaside village waiting for medicine a week after Hurricane Matthew hit the remote peninsula.

Among the injured was Beauvoir Luckner, a cobbler and farmer who walked 12 kilometers in three days after a tree crushed his leg and killed his mother when it fell on their house.

His leg might have to be amputated, but all doctors can do is clean his wounds because the hospital has run out of everything, including pain killers.

"There's no water, no antibiotics," Dr Herby Jean said. "Everything is depleted ... We hear helicopters flying overhead, but we're not getting anything."

There was also no power and frustration grew on Tuesday as food, medicine and fresh water kept arriving at the main city in Haiti's southwest peninsula but was slow to reach increasingly desperate communities like Dame Marie.

Meanwhile, Luckner lay on a mattress with no sheets and a bandage around his left leg.

"It took a lot of misery to get here and now that I'm here, there's still misery," he said.

At a cramped police station serving as a makeshift clinic in the nearby town of Marfranc, Darline Derosier fastened IV drips to jail cell bars, wiped the brows of cholera patients and tended to wounds.

She was the only health worker helping about 40 patients inside the station bereft of police as she waited for help to arrive.

"People will die soon if we don't get some aid," an overwhelmed Derosier said.

The UN humanitarian agency in Geneva has made an emergency appeal for nearly $120 million (€133m) in aid, saying about 750,000 people in southwest Haiti alone will need "life-saving assistance and protection" in the next three months.

UN officials said earlier that at least 1.4 million people across the region need assistance and that 2.1 million overall have been affected by the hurricane. Some 175,000 people remain in shelters.


Electricity was still out, water and food were scarce, and officials said young men in villages along the road between the hard-hit cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie were building blockades of rocks and broken branches to halt relief convoys.

The National Civil Protection headquarters in Port-au-Prince raised the official nationwide death toll to 372, which included at least 198 deaths in Grand-Anse. But local officials have said the toll in Grand-Anse alone tops 500.

The UN also said the hurricane has increased the risk of a "renewed spike" in the number of cholera cases. A cholera outbreak since 2010 has already killed roughly 10,000 people and sickened more than 800,000.

Irish Independent

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