Haitian health workers fear worst of cholera outbreak yet to come

By Milo Milfort

Port-au-Prince, Oct 14 (EFE).- Grimel throws herself on the floor, screaming and crying inconsolably.

She had gone to see her brother, 40-year-old Onald Sainjilus, at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) cholera center in this capital but arrived too late, her beloved family member having died the night before.

Haiti is now reporting more than 260 suspected cholera cases, around 30 confirmed cases and at least 18 deaths from that bacterial disease, which is usually spread through contaminated water.

“When I saw him yesterday, he was in good condition, but that was the last day I’d see my brother alive,” she told Efe at that MSF facility in Port-au-Prince’s Cite-Soleil slum.

Hours earlier, a girl with a case of diarrhea also passed away at that same medical center, which was set up after authorities confirmed a new cholera wave following a three-year hiatus.

More than 100 people are currently hospitalized at that large facility consisting of 10 large tents, the majority of them women and children.

The number of cases is steadily rising every day, causing great concern among medical personnel.

Although the official death toll stands at 18, that number does not include those who perished without having time to reach the hospital nor inmates at the capital’s main prison, the National Penitentiary, which has been hit by a cholera outbreak.

Angeline Althema, a nurse at the cholera treatment center where Onald passed away, said she thinks the worst is yet to come.

“The number of cases is rising so much that it’s scary. It could be much worse in the coming days,” she said while pointing out that nearly all beds are now occupied.

Different health protocols are being followed inside that Port-au-Prince cholera treatment center, including systematic hand-washing with chlorinated water and showers for patients and their family members.

Inside, patients receive intravenous fluid while talking among themselves, the pain evident in their gaunt faces. Some recently arrived, while others have been at the facility for days.

The hours pass and new patients arrive on board mototaxis authorized to enter Cite-Soleil, while between the tents women hang up washed clothes to dry and health workers come and go.

The epicenter of the new cholera outbreak is Brooklyn, an area within the sprawling Cite-Soleil slum that is home to an estimated 90 percent of the patients.

Armed gangs forced the police out of Brooklyn years ago, and now authorities are unable to enter that area to try to bring a halt to the infections.

Brooklyn is the scene of an armed conflict pitting two gang alliances – “G9 and Family” and G-PEP – that has left dozens dead, around 50 women raped and hundreds of houses burned.

Because of the extreme violence on the streets, Brooklyn residents take refuge in their homes, where they are forced to consume non-potable well water and lack medical services and electricity, all of which are conducive to a rapid rise in cholera cases.

The situation is further exacerbated by generalized business shutdowns, roadblocks, fuel shortages and a consequent lack of treated water in Haiti, where violent anti-government protests against rising fuel prices have been raging for more than a month. EFE


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