Nov 16, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Health organizations in Haiti are focusing on identifying and responding to cholera hot spots quickly, as the number of new cases and deaths grows and the geographic reach of the disease continues to spread, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today.
Dr Jon Andrus, PAHO's deputy director, said at a press briefing that cases have been confirmed in six communes in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, and officials are particularly worried about disease spikes in Cite Soleil and Petionville, areas that include some of the city's worst poverty, sanitation, and water conditions.
The most recent estimates from Haiti's health ministry give the number of cases and deaths as of Nov 14 as 16,779 and 1,034, according to preliminary data posted on PAHO's Web site today.
An emergency operations center has now been set up in Haiti's presidential palace, which has become a central spot for several of the country's government ministries, United Nations agencies, and other health partners, Andrus said, adding, "This sends a clear leadership message."
He said PAHO expects that cholera cases will be confirmed in neighboring Dominican Republic and that health groups are working closely with that country to prepare for potential outbreaks. Because sanitary conditions and the degree of poverty are not as bad in the Dominican Republic as in Haiti, health officials don't expect a severe outbreak, though some communities are vulnerable, Andrus said.
While health officials predict the disease will likely gain a foothold in other countries in the Americas, many countries were able to interrupt disease transmission during the last big outbreak, which began in 1991, and Andrus said health officials are optimistic that the cholera circulation, if it occurs, will stay at lower levels.
Andrus said PAHO has high hopes that Haiti's government will also succeed in interrupting cholera transmission. "They have been successful in eradicating polio, measles, and rubella," he said. "We know they can do the job, but this is going to be more challenging."
In other developments, a demonstration of several hundred people against United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces in the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien turned violent, leaving 2 dead and 16 wounded, Haiti Libre reported today. Cap-Haitien is 186 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Rumors have spread in Haiti that a Nepalese UN mission could have been the source of the outbreak, but official sources have said that no illnesses have been reported in any of the group's soldiers.
The Haiti Libre report said demonstrators were also claiming that the UN has mismanaged the outbreak. The UN force said in a statement deploring the violence against the UN and Haitian police that the events could have been politically motivated, coming shortly before a nationwide election.
PAHO yesterday briefed its nongovernmental health organization partners on the outbreak, according to a press release. Dr Mirta Roses, PAHO's director, said the top priorities are saving lives through prompt treatment and improving living conditions to make the population less vulnerable to the disease.
"We really need action on potable water, safe food, education, and building a solid water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti," she said.
Roses praised the support of the groups but highlighted the importance of the Haitian government's role. "National and local leaders must be in the driver's seat because they will remain after the crisis."
Nov 15 PAHO press release
Nov 16 Haiti Libre story