Dozens more cholera cases have been diagnosed in Haiti, adding new urgency to warnings of the Caribbean nation’s descent into chaos amid political and economic crises.
The deadly infection has already killed eight people, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health, and 68 new cases were identified in the first week of October according to the humanitarian medical group, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
The “vast majority” of cholera cases observed by MSF are children, the group’s project coordinator Moha Zemrag told CNN on Sunday.
The burgeoning new public health emergency could hardly come at a worse time. Anti-government protests – now in their seventh week – have brought the country to a standstill, with schools, businesses and public transport across the country mostly closed. Since August 22, Haitians have been demonstrating against chronic gang violence, poverty, food insecurity, inflation and fuel shortages.
Their fury was further fueled last month when Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced he would cut fuel subsidies to fund the government – a move that would double prices at the pump. Powerful gangs in Haiti have exacerbated the fuel crisis by blockading the country’s main port in the capital Port-au-Prince.
The country’s hospital system is now running out of fuel. Several hospitals recently announced that they would be forced to close or limit services due to lack of electricity from fuel-powered generators.
Dr. Laure Adrien, director general of Haiti’s health ministry, said Sunday that all eight cholera deaths occurred in Port-au-Prince.
“For now, we need to work on prevention and try to identify the source of the recent outbreak. We know that cholera is very dangerous but also easily treatable. We call on everyone to be vigilant and do their part because we are trying to get the situation under control,” Adrien told a press conference in the capital.
People who live in areas with shortages of clean water or inadequate sanitation facilities are vulnerable to cholera, which can result from consuming food or water contaminated with bacteria.
Although vaccines exist and symptoms can be “easily treated,” according to the World Health Organization, cholera remains an insidious dehydration killer in the developing world.
Haiti has already been marked by cholera. In 2010, less than a year after a massive earthquake, cholera began spreading from a UN peacekeepers camp to the population.
This epidemic eventually reached 800,000 cases and caused at least 10,000 deaths. Although the UN has acknowledged its involvement in the outbreak, it has not accepted legal responsibility. Rights organizations have consistently called for financial compensation for the victims.
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Until this year, the disease appeared to have been largely eradicated from the country following a national public health battle.
In February, UN Deputy Secretary Amina J. Mohammed said Haiti was “on the brink of a historic moment.”
“As we seek to eliminate cholera in Haiti, it will be the first country in modern times to do so following a large-scale outbreak,” she said.
But now that step seems out of reach, again.
On Monday, the UN said it would help the Haitian government put in place an “emergency response” to the new outbreak “focused not only on limiting the spread of the disease, but also on how to say families how to take immediate action to save lives in their local communities.”
In a statement released through his spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres also noted that the other crises in Haiti make it difficult to respond effectively to the outbreak.
“Fuel deliveries have been blocked at the port since mid-September, which has disrupted not only the daily lives of the Haitian people, but also the ability and capacity of the United Nations and the international community to respond to a crisis that is developing. ‘worse,’ he said. .
“The Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to work together at this time of crisis, to ensure that the progress made over the past 12 years in the fight against cholera is not eroded.