Haitians Still Threatened by Inadequate Cholera Response

A year since the onset of the cholera epidemic, healthcare services and measures to prevent its spread remain inadequate.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, October 20, 2011—One year since the onset of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, people all over the country are still threatened by the deadly disease, and healthcare services and measures to prevent its spread remain inadequate, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today. 

Since the first cases of cholera were identified in October 2010, more than 465,000 Haitians have fallen ill and more than 6,500 people have died, according to Haiti’s Ministry of Health. While the ongoing rainy season is facilitating the further spread of the disease, international organizations involved in health care, water provision, and sanitation services are withdrawing from the fight against cholera in Haiti, despite the significant and urgent needs. 
“Haitian authorities and international aid actors need to do much more to treat and prevent cholera,” said Romain Gitenet, MSF head of mission in Haiti. “There is an urgent need to improve health care, provide access to clean water, and ensure proper sanitation. Clean water and sanitation are essential to halting the spread of cholera,” he said. “Even though the international community has pledged huge sums of money to assist Haiti, thousands of Haitians are still getting sick from cholera every week, and some are still dying.” 
It is likely that cholera will continue to be present in Haiti for years to come. While Haitian authorities will ultimately have to take responsibility for responding to the disease, they have not yet been able to mount an effective countrywide response. 
There continues to be dangerous and unpredictable fluctuations in the number of cholera cases. For example, in the fourth week of August 2011, MSF treated 281 patients for cholera in Port-au-Prince; by the end of September, cases jumped to 840 per week.
While ensuring that Haitians’ urgent needs for cholera care are adequately met, international aid agencies should do more to assist the Haitian government in rapidly integrating proper cholera treatment into healthcare facilities and in implementing prevention plans. MSF has been working to transfer management of the healthcare facilities it has been supporting back to the Ministry of Health. 
"Cholera patients continue to die from dehydration in remote areas of the country simply because there are no oral rehydration points or treatment facilities nearby, or because of a lack of trained healthcare personnel or community outreach workers,” said Gitenet. “This is unacceptable."
About cholera and MSF’s response to the epidemic:
Cholera is a bacterial infection that spreads primarily through contaminated water and food and through interpersonal contact. It can kill quickly, but is easy to treat if appropriate healthcare services are available. It is also easy to prevent, through access to clean water, regular hand washing, and hygienic food handling. However, a majority of Haitians living in rural areas and urban slums do not have access to potable water or proper hygiene and sanitation facilities.

Since the beginning of the cholera epidemic in October 2010, MSF has treated more than 160,000 people for cholera, about 35 percent of total cases reported nationwide. MSF teams are currently responding to cholera in the Martissant, Carrefour, Delmas, Choscal, and Drouillard neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, and in the Ouest, Nord, and Artibonite departments.