UN appeals for Haiti cholera aid to avoid being 'overrun'

12th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The United Nations on Friday appealed for nearly 164 million dollars in aid to tackle cholera in Haiti and avoid being "overrun" by the growing epidemic.

"We hope we can get this otherwise all our efforts will be overrrun by the epidemic," said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Byrs said UN, other aid agencies and Haiti's health ministry needed 163.8 million dollars for a strategy to stifle the sudden epidemic, which has infected more than 11,000 people and killed 724 since last month.

The strategy drawn up by the UN "anticipates up to 200,000 people to show symptoms of cholera ranging from cases of mild diarrhoea to the most severe dehydration" over a period of about six months, OCHA and the World Health Organisation said.

They were unable to say how many people had experienced such broad symptoms in quake torn and impoverished Haiti over the past six months.

"We urgently need medical staff, trained nurses... and to ramp up medical supplies," said Byrs.

The UN hopes that the response will be as swift as the one that helped dampen the sudden appearance of cholera in the Caribbean country for the first time in about a century.

"The government and the international community responded very swiftly and efficiently to the outbreak, the response has prevented many deaths," Byrs told journalists.

OCHA warned that the sheer quantity of relief items that need to be delivered over the coming weeks meant that more financial and logistical support was needed.

The WHO said the death rate had been "relatively stable" in the outbreak although at high levels, mainly down to the vulnerability of Haitians to the bacterial infection, which is carried by contaminated water.

"No one alive in Haiti has experienced cholera before," said WHO spokesman Gregory Haertl.

The toll soared again on Thursday and three more deaths in the teeming capital Port-au-Prince raised fears the epidemic could explode in camps full of earthquake survivors.

"We greatly fear a flare-up in the capital which would be serious given the conditions in the camps," Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association, told AFP.

Haitian authorities have been warned to expect a different scale of disaster if cholera takes hold in Port-au-Prince, much of which was flattened by the January earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people.

An estimated 1.3 million Haitians live in refugee camps, most in tent cities around the capital where water-borne cholera could spread easily in filthy conditions where scarce supplies are shared for cooking and washing.

The outbreak, Haiti's first in more than 50 years, erupted in the Artibonite River valley in mid-October and initially seemed to have been contained to central and northern areas.

But there have been roughly 1,000 new cases each day this week, following a storm that hit the country, and the death curve is getting steadily steeper with 60 new fatalities recorded on Wednesday and more than 80 on Thursday.

The UN said on Friday that 278 cases had been treated in Port-au-Prince with 10 deaths.

Cholera has been found in six of the country's 10 provinces, Byrs said.

© 2010 AFP

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