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Haiti cholera death toll soars as election nears

UN braces for 'significant' increase in Haiti cholera cases
United Nations (AFP) Nov 15, 2010 - There are now cholera cases in every part of Haiti and UN agencies expect a significant increase in the number stricken, a top UN official said Monday. "It is spreading and we have to try to contain the number of cases and we have to try to contain the number of deaths," said Nigel Fisher, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti. "We do have cases in every department," Fisher added. The United Nations and Haiti government has started a wider inquiry and Fisher told reporters at UN headquarters: "We do foresee a significant increase when we get more accurate data." He predicted it would become "a very severe outbreak." The Haitian Health Ministry's latest figures have spoken of 917 dead with more than 14,600 people treated in hospital. The UN coordinator said it was not unusual for hundreds of thousands of people to be hit by cholera in such an epidemic but added that many would be mild cases.

Fisher said the country's first cholera outbreak had gone beyond a health crisis. "It is an issue of environmental concern, it is an issue obviously of national security where we have demonstrations starting already" against the location of cholera treatment centers. One demonstration was held Monday in the city of Cap Haitien, Fisher said in a video-link press briefing from the capital, Port-au-Prince. The UN has started a campaign to try to convince the population that it is an advantage to have treatment centres nearby. With UN and aid agencies still struggling to help the population after the January earthquake in which 250,000 people died, the United Nations has launched a new 148 million dollar appeal to contain the cholera epidemic. Fisher said that on top of medical supplies and equipment, special training would be need to manage the cases and transport bodies.
by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Nov 15, 2010
Haiti's cholera toll has risen above 900, including dozens of deaths in the teeming capital, as the epidemic showed no sign of abating just two weeks ahead of presidential elections.

Health Ministry officials reported Sunday more than 120 new deaths since the previous toll, as authorities and international aid agencies struggled to contain the latest crisis afflicting the desperately poor Caribbean nation.

Nearly one month after cholera took hold, the confirmed fatalities rose to 917, up from Friday's 796 recorded deaths.

The recent increase in fatalities has been steady and not a spike, but it nonetheless highlights the difficulties of tamping down an outbreak in a country desperate for better infrastructure and health services.

As concerns rise over massive health challenges in the aftermath of the country's cataclysmic earthquake almost a year ago, Haiti confronts the hardening prospect of national elections two weeks from now in the midst of a series of disasters.

Of Haiti's 10 provinces, six now have been touched by the cholera epidemic according to the health ministry, which said 14,642 people so far had been treated in hospital, about 2,300 more than on Friday.

At least 27 of the deaths were recorded in the teeming capital Port-au-Prince, including its largest slum Cite Soleil and its suburbs.

Most of those treated already have been released, but a wave of new infections is swamping understaffed and ill-prepared hospitals and clinics across the country.

Officials fear the scale of the epidemic could increase exponentially if cholera infiltrates makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince where hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors live in cramped and unsanitary conditions.

A cataclysmic earthquake flattened much of the capital in January, leaving more than a quarter people dead and an estimated 1.3 million of Haiti's 10 million population displaced.

Amid the crises, Haitians are due to vote for a new president and parliamentarians in late November.

Mirlande Manigat, the candidate who leads in polls ahead of the vote to succeed outgoing President Rene Preval, said it would be "unreasonable" for officials to postpone the election despite the crises.

"The general situation is not favorable for elections, because of the earthquake, health problems, cholera (and) hurricanes" among the pressing crises facing the country, Manigats told AFP.

But "we are now at a point when we cannot step back" from the election, "because there is a momentum within the population," the former first lady and longtime opposition leader said.

Candidate Leslie Voltaire also urged authorities to hold the vote as scheduled on November 28.

"We cannot postpone the election because of the cholera. You never know, if you postpone the election by a month or two, the cholera may be worse than it is today."

The United Nations is asking for 164 million dollars to fight the epidemic, which has gained strength over the past week and spread to Port-au-Prince, and has warned that aid efforts could be "overrun by the epidemic" without urgent global financial assistance.

The bulk of the requested money -- around 89 million dollars -- will be used for water, sanitation and hygiene, while 43 million will be used for health, and 19 million for efforts in the camps housing people displaced by the earthquake, UN officials said.

Conditions were aggravated dramatically earlier this month when Hurricane Tomas brought heavy rains which caused rivers to burst their banks, including the Artibonite River, which is believed to be the conduit of the disease.

The Artibonite region in the northwest has been the hardest hit, with 595 recorded deaths.

The aid group Save the Children said 40 percent of those who have died in the epidemic were not in a hospital or clinic, suggesting they had no treatment or had not recognized symptoms of a disease that can kill within hours.

Meanwhile, officials in the neighboring Dominican Republic said the government was limiting markets on the border and taking other steps to ensure cholera does not reach that country, The New York Times reported.

The Dominican Republic has made preparations to treat 7,500 to 10,000 cholera patients if necessary, the report said.

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