In Haiti, the return of cholera is a “catastrophe”

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En Haiti, the return of cholera is a “disaster”

Haiti is plunged into a health and security crisis.

An “alarming”, “chaotic” situation, a “catastrophe”: in Haiti, humanitarian officials on the front line in the face of the cholera epidemic which is spreading. is triggered three weeks ago in the country do not have words strong enough to express their concern.

A whole section of the population is currently isolated due to the control of large areas by armed gangs and the lack of fuel. However, sick patients can die of dehydration in a few hours if they are not treated.

It's a disaster. We are overwhelmed, told AFP Dr. Jean William Pape, whose Haitian NGO Gheskio manages two cholera treatment centers (CTC), out of the fortnight set up in total in the country. /p>

In one of them, in Port-au-Prince, the capital, we have 80 beds, they are all occupied, he explains.

“Because of the shortage of fuel, people from the slums told me that there were several deaths in their areas, because couldn't transport the sick”

—Dr Jean William Pape of the Haitian NGO Gheskio

For weeks, the Varreux oil terminal has been blocked by an armed band, contributing to the paralysis of the country.

While Haiti has had no cases of cholera since 2019 , some 960 suspected cases and 33 deaths had been detected in three weeks by the Ministry of Health as of October 19.

A number that could be grossly underestimated, according to Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Haiti.

The situation is all the more frustrating as the management of patients with severe diarrhea is simple (rehydration for a few days maximum), and there is a vaccine against cholera. But it only remains effective for about five years, and the last major targeted vaccination campaign in Haiti dates back to 2017.

About half of the cases detected are in children under 14-year-olds, many of whom are particularly fragile due to weakened immune systems from lack of food due to poverty

“Many of them are very malnourished,” confirms Dr Pape. It's hard to find their veins to give them care [intravenous fluids].

—Dr Jean William Pape of the Haitian NGO Gheskio

According to the UN, around 4.7 million people, almost half of the country's population, are at a level of acute food insecurity.

Médecins sans frontières (MSF) manages four centers (250 beds in total) and around twenty oral rehydration points, explained to AFP Moha Zemrag, deputy head of mission .

One ​​of the priorities is, according to him, to be able to allow access to drinking water in certain neighborhoods controlled by gangs, such as Brooklyn, in the commune of Cité Soleil (urban area of ​​Port-au-Prince), without drinking water for three months.

Cholera is caused by ingesting water or food contaminated with bacteria (Vibrio cholerae).

Due to insecurity and very frequent kidnappings, NGOs are also unable to go to these neighborhoods to disinfect housing with chlorine.

MSF has set up a shuttle system to transport its staff to health centres, but in a few weeks the lack of fuel could make these journeys impossible, explains Moha Zemrag.

The x27;concern is also growing for the rural population, who without fuel often find themselves several days' walk from any help. The first cases have been detected in the Nippes (south) or Artibonite (north) region.

The roads leading to the south and north of Haiti are blocked by armed groups, explains Bruno Maes: Port-au-Prince is literally surrounded, strangled. UNICEF offices have been looted, and drug deliveries are blocked at the port.

The United Nations warned of an explosion of cholera cases in Haiti.

The return of cholera revives the nightmarish memory of the epidemic introduced by peacekeepers in 2010, after an earthquake. It had killed more than 10,000 people until 2019.

But the country is not experiencing the same explosion in the number of cases this time around, estimates Sylvain Aldighieri, director Public Health Emergency Assistant of the Pan American Health Organization.

Authorities have 10 years experience on cholera, and the important thing is to reactivate the known mechanisms.

You still have to be able to do it.

The UN imposed sanctions against gangs on Friday ( arms embargo…), but remains so far divided on the dispatch of an international force.

A measure which, according to M .Aldighieri, the creation of humanitarian corridors for complicated areas, and that equipment can leave the port. At the moment, he says, the first planes carrying equipment are expected in the coming days.

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