Protests rattle Haiti as cholera cases near 50,000

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Nov 19, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Protests over a possible foreign source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti have broken out in the capital, Port-au-Prince, as cases were reported for the first time from the country's South East department.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), citing preliminary data from Haiti's health ministry, said today that the number of outpatient illnesses are now being reported alongside hospitalized case and death numbers. As of Nov 16, 49,418 total cases were reported, 40% (19,646) of which were hospitalized. The health ministry put the number of deaths at 1,186, of which 774 occurred in the hospital and 412 took place in the community.

The cases in Haiti's South East department raise the number of affected departments to 8 of 10.

Yesterday violent protests spread to Port-au-Prince for the first time, following similar flare-ups in the northern part of the country, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Much of the anger is fueled by suspicions that Nepalese soldiers from a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping unit brought cholera into Haiti and accusations that the UN has mishandled the outbreak response.

The UN has denied that its peacekeeping base was the source of the infection and has countered that some activists are spurring protests to interfere with a Nov 28 nationwide election.

Adding to suspicions that UN soldiers could have been the source of the cholera, a Swedish diplomat who was stationed in Haiti on Nov 18 claimed that Nepal was the source of Haiti's outbreak, the Himalayan Times reported yesterday. However, Nepal's UN mission based in New York rejected claims against the Nepalese soldiers as "baseless," Nepal News reported today.

Earlier tests on the strain of bacterium causing Haiti's cholera outbreak have shown that it came from south Asia, and health officials have said the exact source of the outbreak may never be known.

Yesterday the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an update in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that said detailed laboratory analysis of 14 samples from patients in the Artibonite region, where the outbreak started, were indistinguishable. This finding suggests that a single strain was responsible for all of the illnesses.

The CDC said that, if the isolates represent the strain currently circulating in Haiti, it's likely that the Vibrio cholerae was introduced in one event. It said lab analysis on samples from people from other parts of Haiti is ongoing.

In other developments, Red Cross officials said that a prison in Port-au-Prince has seen 30 cholera infections, including 10 deaths, the AP also reported today. Red Cross spokesman Marcal Izard says the outbreak is of particular concern because the prison—which holds 2,000 inmates, or about one fourth of the country's prisoners—is overcrowded.

Izard said Red Cross and national officials are "working around the clock to make this prison safe," according to the report.

See also:

Nov 19 AP story on the protests

Nov 18 Himalayan Times story

Nov 19 MMWR report

Nov 19 AP story on the prison outbreak

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