Dozens more cases of cholera have been diagnosed in Haiti, adding new urgency to warnings about the Caribbean nation’s descent into chaos amid political and economic crises.
The deadly infection has already killed eight people, according to Haiti’s health ministry, and 68 new cases have been identified in the first week of October, according to the medical humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The “vast majority” of cholera cases tracked by MSF are children, the group’s program coordinator Moha Zemrag told CNN on Sunday.
The emerging new public health emergency could hardly come at a worse time. Anti-government protests – now in their seventh week – have paralyzed the country, 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 anger 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. Haiti’s powerful gangs have exacerbated the fuel crisis by blocking the country’s main port in the capital Port-au-Prince.
The country’s hospital system is running out of fuel. Many hospitals have recently announced that they will be forced to close or curtail services due to a lack of electricity from fuel-powered generators.
Dr. Laure Adrien, director general of Haiti’s health ministry, said Sunday that the 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 as we try to bring the situation under control,” Adrien said during a press conference in the capital.
People living in areas with a lack of safe drinking water or inadequate sanitation are vulnerable to cholera, which can result from consuming food or water contaminated with the bacteria.
Although vaccines are available and symptoms can be “easily treated,” according to the World Health Organization, cholera remains an insidious killer due to dehydration in the developing world.
Haiti has suffered from cholera in the past. In 2010, less than a year after a massive earthquake, cholera began to spread from a UN peacekeeping camp to the population.
This outbreak eventually reached 800,000 cases and claimed at least 10,000 lives. Although the UN has acknowledged its involvement in the outbreak, it has not accepted legal responsibility. Rights groups have not stopped calling for financial compensation for the victims.
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Until this year, the disease appeared to have largely disappeared from the country after a nationwide public health battle.
In February, UN Under-Secretary Amina J Mohammed said Haiti was “on the brink of a historic moment”.
“As we strive to eliminate cholera in Haiti, it will be the first country in modern times to do so after a large-scale outbreak,” he said.
But now that milestone seems out of reach again.
On Monday, the UN said it would help the Haitian government organize an “emergency response” to the new outbreak “that will focus not only on limiting the spread of the disease but also on telling families how to take immediate life-saving action in local the communities. ”
In a statement issued through his spokesman, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also noted that 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 capacity and ability of the United Nations and the international community to respond to a worsening crisis,” he said. .
“The Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to work together in this time of crisis to ensure that the gains made over the past 12 years in the fight against cholera are not eroded.”