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Cholera epidemic continues unabated in Haiti

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 15th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Two long years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, an ongoing cholera outbreak continues, killing thousands. The cholera epidemic began in October 2010, ten months after the earthquake. It has caused more than 7,000 deaths and has left more than half a million people seriously ill. Spreading like wildfire, the Centers for Disease Control calls it one of the largest cholera epidemics to affect a single region in modern history.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Cholera is a disease that defines poverty; it has done so historically and continues to do so today," Dr, Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water and Sanitation at UNICEF says.

"In [some] rural areas, 99 percent of people practice open defecation. This has huge public health implications," Wijesekera adds.

The Pan American Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. CDC have announced a partnership with the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to try and improve sanitation and access to drinking water in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

The goal is to extend proper sanitation facilities to at least two-thirds of the Haitian population by 2015, a daunting task which could cost $1.1 billion.

"Of course we need to control [the epidemic], of course we need to reduce the mortality," Dr Mirta Roses, Director of PAHO said in her opening address at the international press conference in Washington, DC. "The call of action is for a cholera-free Hispaniola [the island containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic], which means not just prevention and control, but elimination."

Those who suffer cholera experience uncontrollable diarrhea, which leads to severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and sometimes death. Cholera can be easily treated with proper hydration and antibiotics.

Unfortunately, Haiti has the least developed water and sewage treatment facilities in the Western Hemisphere, ranking 145 out of 169 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index.

Eighty-six percent of the people living in Port au Prince, the Haitian capital lived in slum conditions with 70 percent subsisting on less than $2 per day. In 2008, only 17 percent of Haitians had access to proper sanitation such as flush toilets, septic tanks, and ventilated pit latrines and 63 percent to clean drinking water . and all these figures were before the devastating quake, which sent the nation's tentative infrastructure tumbling to the ground.

"There is no effective public water system in Haiti," Dr Louise Ivers, Chief of Mission for Partners in Health says. "The river is the place where bathing, drinking and defecation all occur."

By contrast, 93 percent of people living in the Dominican Republic have access to proper sanitation, comparable to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The origin of the Haitian cholera epidemic was the subject of a U.N. special report which concluded that the source of the epidemic was most likely a camp for U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, whose human waste was dumped by independent contractors into an unsecured pit that was susceptible to flooding in heavy rainfall.

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