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  Print view: Cholera Outbreak Hits Port-au-Prince
COMMENTARY:

Cholera Outbreak Hits Port-au-Prince

by Stephen Lendman
Thursday, 11 November 2010
For decades, Haiti experienced no cholera. Now an epidemic threatens, as half of Haiti's 10 administrative regions have been hit. In a matter of weeks, it's "suspected of infecting tens of thousands of people...."

An November 9, Haiti Libre said city authorities examined at least 120 suspected cases, mostly in Cite Soleil, the extremely impoverished, densely populated community home to around 400,000. More vulnerable from Hurricane Tomas flooding, Partners in Health (PIH) called crowded camps "a potential flashpoint for a cholera outbreak. There is growing concern" about reported cases, thousands that may spread to many more.

In recent days, cases "continued to expand geographically. More (appeared) in Haiti's Central Plateau," PIH reporting 111 people hospitalized. Reported deaths also keep rising, likely much higher than Haiti's Health Ministry 544 figure on November 8. On November 9, Al Jazeera reported 583 deaths, the numbers increasing daily. The report also said:

"At least 115 cases of cholera, including the death of (at least) one person, have been registered in Haiti's capital, the most significant warning sign yet that the epidemic has spread from outlying areas to threaten hundreds of thousands of people in the city's camps."

Reporter Sebastian Walker said hospitals were overwhelmed, adding:

"Given the sheer number of cases that hospitals are receiving, it is simply not possible to conduct laboratory tests in order to give 100 per cent overall confirmation that this is cholera."

Given the familiar symptoms, however, including severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever, there's little doubt about the cause. Over 9,000 cases so far have been identified, mostly in the Artibonite area, north of Port-au-Prince.

Walker also said that "It is almost impossible to contain this disease in an environment like this. Port-au-Prince is a very overcrowded city with appalling sanitation infrastructure."

PIH founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, currently UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti, called for an aggressive investigation into the outbreak's cause. However, since the January earthquake, aid from most governments, UN bodies, and most NGOs has been meager and inadequate, despite billions of dollars pledged or donated. Washington promised over $1 billion, delivered nothing. Shamefully, most funding is earmarked for development, not affected Haitians on their own to survive, even after Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak.

Suspicions are that UN Blue Helmets introduced it, tests confirming it's a South Asia strain (Vibrio cholerae serogroup 01, serotpe Ogama), not regional. Nepalese Peacekeepers are based in Artibonite, site of the initial outbreak. It's also Haiti's main rice-growing area, raising suspicions of deliberate sabotage, creating a greater potential for US imports, already advantaged by huge subsidies able to undercut home-grown crops.

For decades, Haiti experienced no cholera. Now an epidemic threatens, ThirdAge.com saying since late October, half of Haiti's 10 administrative regions have been hit. In a matter of weeks, it's "suspected of infecting tens of thousands of people...." Tomas flooding forced an Artibonite River dam to release infected water, exacerbating the disease potential. [An earlier article provided more details.]

On November 9, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres - MSF) said it was treating increasing numbers of suspected cholera cases in Port-au-Prince - so far, over 200 people, "suffering from severe diarrhea, a clinical symptom consistent with cholera."

MSF has four Port-au-Prince facilities, but only about 300 beds set aside for cholera. In the Artibonite area, its teams have treated over 6,400 cases. Overall, however, it warns that the limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation services pose an enormous risk for further spread. A widespread epidemic is feared. Potentially it could kill many thousands.

On November 10, Haiti: Operational Biosurveillance (HOB) said:

"Current official stats (confirm) more than 9,500 cases and 583 fatalities. In some areas of Haiti, we have confirmation that in-patient statistics are under-reported by as much as 400%. There is no question of under-reporting."

At one-fourth the true number, it means around 38,000 affected people. Again, the totals grow daily, HOB believing "the true statistic to be closer to more than 50k based on the degree of under-reporting. This is an uncontrolled, uncontained epidemic of cholera that has exceeded public health capacity to investigate and assess every site reported and every sample received."

Evidence also suggests that it spread cross border to the Dominican Republic, HOB calling it "expected." It's confirmed in multiple Haitian sites, including Port-au-Prince, the northwest, and southern peninsula. Transmission modes include contaminated food and water as well as human-to-human spread. Its presence in overcrowded Cite Soleil has "dire implications" for the capital.

HOB reports unconfirmed cases in Port-au-Prince's Carrefour community. "Other areas have reported cholera such as Grand and Petit Goave....Suspect (cases) have been reported in Les Cayes, Jacmel, and several other rural communities in the southern peninsula. We assume it is highly likely the epidemic has indeed extended to" this area. HOB concludes that:

"The cholera epidemic in Haiti proceeds in an uncontrolled, uncontained fashion and will likely encompass all of Haiti within a matter of weeks."

"Eventual regionalization of cholera in the Caribbean is a strong possibility but not a certainty if the pandemic of the early 1990s is a guide." Haiti experienced no cholera for the past 50 years. It's present now under very suspicious circumstances.

Two Nations Delivering Promised Aid

Virtually ignored in Western media reports, Cuba stands out. For years, hundreds of its doctors, nurses, and other medical specialists have provided Haitians with primary care, surgeries, and other professional services. After the earthquake, they worked round the clock delivering exemplary aid, helped by Venezuelan funding.

Cuba's now playing a lead role in treating cholera victims. On November 4, Argentine Dr. Emiliano Mariscal, a graduate of Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine and member of its Haiti medical team, said:

active "work is going forward. The Cuban Medical Brigade (is) contributing to the fight against this terrible epidemic together with Haitian authorities."

He's one of 51 young Cuban graduates in the country, an expression of "solidarity and internationalism" at a time of need, "working arm in arm as one with (our) Cuban brothers and teachers." Cuban medical providers will remain active "during the cholera epidemic....Just ask any (Haitian about them) and you will see their faces blossom."

Venezuela also was one of the first countries to deliver post-quake aid, sending fuel, hundreds of tons of food, medical supplies, water purification systems, electrical generators, heavy equipment to remove rubble, and more. Venezuela also immediately cancelled Haiti's debt.

After the cholera outbreak, it sent more aid, including a Ministry of Health team, 10,000 doses of medication, and 4,500 intravenous drips and rehydration tablets, promising more will follow. Venezuela is working cooperatively with the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), a political and diplomatic multilateral regional body, each member country committed to contribute resources, supplies and services.

A Final Comment

A previous article explained that on November 28, first round legislative and presidential elections will be held. Democracy, however, will be absent because the nation's most popular party, Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas, and 13 others are excluded, the system rigged to "elect" Washington friendly choices.

Suppressing an orchestrated sham (a coup d'etat by other means), US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice's September 24 Voice of America (America's propaganda to the world) article headlined, "Supporting Stability in Haiti," saying:

"Peaceful and credible elections and the transfer of power to a new government will be key milestones of Haiti's progress....(T)he United States and the United Nations continue to help Haiti recover and rebuild....The US along with the United Nations is committed to staying with the Haitian people and helping" them.

Clear evidence shows otherwise, a disgusting US-led effort to militarize the country, obstruct aid, and divert funding for development, not affected Haitians. Now, under impossible conditions, a force-fed sham election, spreading cholera, exacerbated by flooding, and no aid whatever from Washington. America is committed only to imperial wars, occupations, and exploitation. Ask Haitians. They'll explain.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on November 11, 2010.
 

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