Friday, November 19, 2010

John Wain, Country Director, Port au Prince

Hi all,

Just a note on yet another eventful week in Haiti.

Official figures we have at the moment, as of the last report published by the UN, is that 16,799 people have now been hospitalized, and 1,039 people have lost their lives.

Again I must stress however that Dr Jim Wilson of Haiti Epidemic Advisory System (HEAS) believes that there is serious issue regarding under –reporting. It is estimated that that current official figures that have been clinically confirmed only represent a quarter of the true situation.

In Port au Prince where I am based, fear of the unknown is starting to set in. Distress is spreading among the population of the capital. People are now becoming aware of the dangers of Cholera, and are hearing about the growing death toll from the infection which originated in the Artibonite/Central Plateau region of Haiti.

The community’s of Port-au-Prince: Carrefour, Cite Soleil, Delmas, Kenscoff, Petion Ville, and Tabarre have seen increased numbers of case of cholera in recent days. As Port-au-Prince braces itself for a potential full-blown outbreak in the campsites, there is now significant air-time given to health advisory notices about prevention and treatment in advance.

People no longer shake hands when they meet and the subject of cholera is widely spoken about with anxiety among the estimated one million homeless still living in tents, ten months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti.

Medcin sans Frontiers (MSF) expect that they will soon run out of space to treat cholera patients in Port-au-Prince and are anticipating having to treat patients on the pavements, on the side of the road. Many may lose their lives as a result. Some people are fearful about having Cholera Treatment Centres located in their vicinity, while at the same time many realise that this can be of great benefit if you require treatment rapidly.

International NGO's and Haitian NGO's are all working together to treat those affected. These NGO's, have established lines of communications from extremely rural locations using online groups to request medical assistance simply just by using Blackberrys and iphones.

Thanks to these modern means of communications an SOS message can be sent and received within seconds, requesting, for example, medical staff, IV Fluids, antibiotics and re-hydration salts. These messages are reaching a community of hundreds of experienced people who are ready and willing to help with supplies, contacts and advice.

The approaching election is without doubt causing tension on the streets. You can see it on people’s faces when you meet them in the street. There has been some media coverage of the protesters who took to the streets in Cap Haitien on Monday last, setting fire to two buses used to block the main road across the main bridge into Cap Haitien.

Medical teams, and indeed Haven staff were evacuated from the region as riots broke out targeting the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and UN personnel. Of course these evacuations ultimately impact on the administration of much needed medical supplies, as staff we were no longer available to treat the sick.

I cannot over state how the full extent of this epidemic has yet to be realised.
Today a case has been confirmed in the Dominican Republic. Due to the problem of suspected official under-reporting and the rate of spread of the outbreak throughout seven departments, cholera has got a choke-hold on Haiti, and perhaps the entire island of Hispaniola.

Until next week,


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