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Cholera situation spiralling out of control in Haiti
WHO estimates that 600,000 could catch disease
The epidemic of cholera in Haiti could be even worse than previously thought.
“According to an unofficial estimate by the World Health Organisation, as many as 600,000 people could fall ill with the disease in the Haitian capital”, says Pekka Haatanen, a Finnish Red Cross doctor working in the capital Port-au-Prince.
This could mean tens of thousands of deaths, or possibly up to 100,000, on top of the estimated 250,000 who were killed in the January earthquake.
The disease has not yet hit the capital with full force. The worst areas for cholera are in the northern city of Cap Haitien and its surroundings, as well as central parts of the country.
According to official government figures, 18,382 people have come down with cholera, and 1,110 have died.
“Everybody knows that the number of people who are ill is much higher. I would multiply the figures by four”, Haatanen says.
Haatanen describes conditions in Port-au-Prince as the worst and dirtiest that he has ever seen in his career in aid work. Haatanen has worked in the aftermath of both the Southeast Asian tsunami and the Bam earthquake in Iran.
“If a disease is going to spread anywhere, then it will spread here”, he says.
The Finnish Red Cross runs a cholera care unit in Port-au-Prince along with the British Red Cross and the Partners in Health organisation.
The Haitian government hopes to quadruple the number of hydration points in the city from the current 1,000. If 100,000 people in Port-au-Prince were to come down with cholera, the space would be insufficient, and the number could be much higher than 100,000.
In addition to cholera, a wave of bitterness is spreading in Haiti, sparked by suspicions that cholera was brought to the island by a Nepalese UN worker.
The report was confirmed by Claes Hammar, the Swedish Ambassador to the Caribbean region.
“I consider my source to be a reliable one. It is a US official, but I cannot say who”, he said on Wednesday by phone to Helsingin Sanomat.
Hammar says that the tests taken by the US official were at a camp of Nepalese UN workers. The UN has said after its own tests that no cholera was found among its workers.
Riots and demonstrations have broken out especially in Cap Haitien. Some of them are linked with the presidential elections in a week and a half, while others are reactions to the outbreak of cholera.
The claim that UN workers had brought cholera to the island has sparked anger among many. Haiti has not had cholera before, and the strain of bacteria that have caused this outbreak is reminiscent to the type that is prevalent in South Asia.
“Many ask why this, on top of everything else, and why the aid workers have not been tested”, says Finnish aid worker Sylvia Raulo in Port-au-Prince.
Raulo works with a project of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in the slum of Cité Soleil, which has no drainage system. The aid workers try to get clean water to the people, and emphasise that those who get the disease need to get treatment immediately.
“The situation is bad - really difficult”, Raulo says.
On Wednesday, the neighbouring Dominican Republic confirmed its first case of cholera.