Anger Erupts at U.N. in Haiti as Cholera Toll Nears 1,000

At a recent Port-au-Prince protest, a sign reads: Bill Clinton equals Cholera.

Published today by Inter-Press Service. Also spoke to Flashpoints Radio about cholera and the protests earlier this evening.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 16, 2010 (IPS) – “People are going to take the body to MINUSTAH to show them what they did,” Jean-Luc Surfin told IPS by phone as riots erupted against Haiti’s U.N. peacekeeping force on Monday in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.

Surfin, a 24-year-old bank teller, said he walked by a young man lying dead in the street blocks away from his home, who bystanders said was shot by peacekeeping troops.

At least two protesters have been reported killed, one shot in the back, a local official told the media. U.N. troops say they acted in self-defence.

“I think the people are frustrated right now. That’s why they’re all over the street. They say they’re going to fight to the death,” Surfin told IPS.

He said demonstrators erected barricades in the street and pelted troops with stones and bottles. Two police stations were set on fire.

Protests were reported in the cities of Hinche and Gonaives in Haiti’s cholera-ravaged central region as well. Radio Levekanpe in Hinche reported that protesters tried to leave the coffin of a man who died of cholera in front of the city’s UN peacekeeping base.

Demonstrators blame foreign peacekeepers for introducing the infectious disease into the country. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says the strain of cholera bacteria spreading in Haiti matches the one endemic in South Asia.

An estimated 200,000 people could be sickened before the epidemic is brought under control, an effort that could take up to six months.

The outbreak has killed over 900 people, just two weeks before scheduled elections. Continue reading “Anger Erupts at U.N. in Haiti as Cholera Toll Nears 1,000”

HAITI: Aid Groups Surveying Damage After Hurricane Tomas While Displaced Families Wait for Shelter

Viola Nicola's flooded tent in Leogane..

Published today by Inter-Press Service. (Would have come out last night if I hadn’t had an allergic reaction to something I ate… still don’t know what it was.)

LEOGANE, Nov 7, 2010 (IPS) – Standing on a raised piece of pavement across from the makeshift home where she has lived for the past 10 months, Violet Nicola threw up her hands.

“Our houses are broken again. I’ve lost my things. They don’t do anything for us. We never see them,” she said, referring to aid groups. “Since the water has come in here, we’re mired in more problems.”

Below her feet, thigh-high muddy brown water extended in every direction along the downtown’s main street on Friday. The floodwaters seeped inside Nicola’s tarp-covered shelter, washing away her belongings.

Hurricane Tomas left Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince relatively unscathed. Leogane, some 29 kilometres west and at the epicentre of January’s earthquake, was drenched in rain.

The humanitarian group Save the Children says at least 35,000 people in Leogane may have been affected by flooding. Sewage and trash carried by moving water “will make conditions even more conducive to deadly cholera bacteria,” the group said in a press release.

The death toll from a three-week-old cholera epidemic has risen to at least 501, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health.

The Haiti Epidemic Advisory System, an independent biosurveillance network, reported new suspected outbreaks of cholera in towns across Haiti’s central area on Saturday.

The peak of the cholera epidemic will come “earlier and faster” because of Hurricane Tomas, Christian Lindmeier, a World Health Organisation press officer, told IPS.

A report from the Ministry of Health says nearly half of the victims died in their communities, not in hospitals. “The challenge is getting to them in time for the mortality rate not to rise too much,” Lindmeier said.

Reached by IPS on Saturday evening, many humanitarian organisations said they spent the day conducting surveys of the destruction wrought by Tomas, not distributing relief to those displaced from their dwellings. Continue reading “HAITI: Aid Groups Surveying Damage After Hurricane Tomas While Displaced Families Wait for Shelter”

Haiti: Cholera Outbreak Highlights Clean Water Crisis

UN Photo: In the small village of Jurve, Haiti, children wash in the Artibonite River.

Published today by Inter-Press Service.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 28, 2010 (IPS) – The man arrived from Arcahaie, near St. Marc in central Haiti where a cholera outbreak exploded last week, initially overwhelming the local medical grid. It was an hour’s journey to a hospital in Lafiteau, near the capital, where he died on Sunday.

“We tried to give him some liquids but it was too late,” Dr. Pierre Duval told IPS. He said it was the second cholera death in three days. Five other patients who arrived from the epidemic zone showed the same symptoms: profuse liquid diarrhea and vomiting.

They looked gaunt and sickly on beds inside the tiny hospital’s dimly lit patient ward, taking up one of its three rooms. Family members said they had bathed and eaten, then fallen gravely ill.

The two patients who died in Lafiteau are not counted among the 303 officially-recognised cholera deaths in Haiti. A United Nations spokesperson said they were not “confirmed” cases of cholera because they occurred outside the epidemic zone and lab tests had not confirmed the presence of cholera bacteria.

Dr. Duval said no officials or medical teams had visited his hospital since the outbreak began.

“The mission is preparing for a nationwide cholera outbreak,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Jessica DuPlessis told IPS, before adding, “I’m sure there are gaps in the response at this point in time.”

Haitian and U.N. officials are citing a dwindling number of new fatalities each day as an indication that the cholera outbreak is “leveling off” and “stabilised” in central Haiti, while saying the peak of the epidemic is still to come.

Continue reading “Haiti: Cholera Outbreak Highlights Clean Water Crisis”

Port-au-Prince Fears the Worst As Cholera Spreads in Haiti

announcementsFinally published by Inter-Press Service on Sunday. Photo from melindayiti showing Bri Kouri Nouvel Gaye making health announcements with truck and speaker

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Days after an outbreak of cholera began in Haiti’s rural Artibonite region, killing at least 200 people, there are now five confirmed cases of cholera in the busy capital city.

The cases “do not represent spread of the epidemic” because they originated in central Haiti, according to a bulletin circulated by Haiti’s UN peacekeeping mission with the heading “Key Messaging,” obtained by IPS.

“The fact that these cases were picked up and responded to so fast demonstrates that the reporting systems for epidemic management we have put in place are functioning,” it concludes.

Residents of the capital city are not so confident. “It’s killing people – of course, I’m scared. We’re in the mouth of death,” 25-year-old Boudou Lunis, one of 1.3 million made homeless by the quake living in temporary settlements, told the Miami Herald.

Radio Boukman lies at the heart of Cite Soleil, an impoverished slum crisscrossed by foul trash-filled canals where cholera could be devastating. The station has received no public health messages for broadcast from authorities, producer Edwine Adrien told IPS on Saturday, four days after reports of cholera-related deaths first emerged.

At a small, desolate camp of torn tents nearby, a gleaming water tank is propped up on bricks. Camp-dwellers said it was installed by the International Organization for Migration last week, more than nine months after the January earthquake damaged their homes.

But it’s empty because no organization has filled it with water. “We need treated water to drink,” a young man named Charlot told IPS matter-of-factly.

Cholera, transmissible by contaminated water and food, could be reaching far beyond the capital city. There are suspected cases of the disease in Haiti’s North and South departments, according to the Pan-American Health Organization, as well as confirmed cases in Gonaives, the country’s third largest city.

Continue reading “Port-au-Prince Fears the Worst As Cholera Spreads in Haiti”

Updates on Haiti cholera outbreak: “There were a lot of no-brainers at the meeting

As I mention in today’s article about the cholera outbreak, authorities are holding emergency meetings here in Port-au-Prince to coordinate their response.

I just spoke to Nick Preneta of SOIL, a sanitation-oriented Oxfam-affiliated NGO that’s installed composting toilets in camps across the capital city. Nick speaks Haitian Creole and has worked in Haiti for several years.  He attended a 4pm meeting at DINEPA (Haiti’s Ministry of Water and Sanitation) headquarters and relayed the following:

  • “There is definitely concern that it will hit Port-au-Prince.  People are reporting diarrhea in different areas, but no confirmed cases.”
  • “A lot of focus on what actors are doing what in St. Marc and Artibonite area… they are consolidating the stockpile of chlorine and aquatabs and changing the chlorine standard for how much chlorine to put into the water to effectively chlorinate it.”
  • He said the International Organization for Migration and smaller groups like SOIL will begin a tent-to-tent hygiene promotion in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Ministry of Health has to approve sets of public health messages before they can be sent out by radio, text message and other means, which is causing delays.  He said SOIL received flyers from UNICEF they’d like to pin up on their toilets, but they’re awaiting approval.
  • “One of the recommendations was to concentrate education at traffic centers.”  I said that sounded like a no-brainer to me, to which Nick responded, “There were a lot of no-brainers at the meeting.”  He went on to say, “There were conversations around shutting down schools and transportation routes… but if those are the conversations now, however many hours after the first confirmed case, it’s already too late – considering that there’s a lot of traffic between here and St. Marc and given the amount of produce that goes back and forth.”

Also, the Haiti Documents Index now updates in real-time as I upload documents to Crocodoc, a website that allows anyone to view and annotate the documents without registering.  Below are some highlights of the latest reports:

  • According to the Logistics Cluster, “The Artibonite River is likely to be the source of the outbreak, after heavy rains spurred its banks to overflow and flooded the area.”
  • According to MINUSTAH, “DINEPA plans to intensify  coverage of chlorination in PaP as a preventive measure especially in IDP camps. On 21 October,  UNICEF contingency-plan partner ACTED initiated distributions of pre-positioned supplies of  ORS and aquatabs for 6,000 people in Grande Saline in the villages of Drouin, Laporte, Latapie,  Boc D’Aquin, and in the fifth communal section of Bocozelle.”  Dr. Megan Coffee, based in Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital, said on Twitter earlier she hoped such distributions had already begun in the capital. To my knowledge, none have.
  • From tonight’s Pan-American Health Organization’s Situation Report, the map below shows the enormous area of central Haiti where cholera cases have been detected.

Cholera situation map

Watch this space and the Haiti Biosurveillance website for further updates.

HAITI: Health Workers Scramble to Keep Cholera out of Crowded Camps

choleraPublished by Inter-Press Service. A shorter audio version of this story airs today on Free Speech Radio News. Photo by Operation Blessing showing hospital in St. Marc

PORT-AU-PRINCE (IPS) – Some 1.3 million people have lived in makeshift camps throughout Port-au-Prince since the January earthquake devastated the city. Living conditions are “appalling”, according a recent report by Refugees International.

But one bright spot of the multi-billion-dollar relief effort, touted by the United Nations and Haitian President Rene Preval, has been the prevention of the spread of a highly infectious, catastrophic disease.

Until now.

At least 160 people have died this week from an outbreak of cholera in the central Artibonite region, according to Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian arm of renowned health organisation Partners in Health.

The fear now is that the disease will reach Port-au-Prince and wreak havoc in the crowded camps.

There are already six suspected cases of the illness in the capital city, Monica Ferreira, a Portuguese medic, told IPS on Friday. Her team has operated a health clinic for quake victims since January.

“All defensive countermeasures should immediately focus on Cite Soleil and Lafiteau if they want to save Port-au-Prince,” said Dr. James Wilson of the Haiti Epidemic Advisory System (HEAS).

A HEAS partner reported that a market woman and child died from cholera in the small town of Lafiteau, just 25 kilometres from the capital.

Melinda Miles, director of the Haitian organisation KONPAY, told IPS she witnessed a man die of cholera Friday afternoon at the Hospital Centre of the Haitian Academy in Lafiteau. Doctors at the hospital could not be reached for comment before publication.

“We went into the room and he died right in front of us,” she said. “He came from St. Marc. The doctor said there are a lot more patients on their way with cholera.” Continue reading “HAITI: Health Workers Scramble to Keep Cholera out of Crowded Camps”