UN Pleads for Funds as Haiti's Cholera Death Toll Tops 900

Haiti's health ministry has reported that the death toll from the cholera epidemic has reached 917, and 14,642 victims have been hospitalized. The disease has been detected in six of the country's ten provinces, and the World Health Organization predicts that 200,000 Haitians will fall ill with cholera over the next six to 12 months.

The UN has made a plea for nearly $164 million in order to supply doctors, medicines, and water-purification equipment. The BBC points out that less than 40% of the aid for Haiti's post-earthquake reconstruction has reached the country, and the first portion of the US's promised funds is on its way to Haiti more than seven months after it was pledged. BBC also passes along this grim picture of how ill-equipped the country is for such a terrible disease outbreak:

Stefano Zannini, head of mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Haiti, said on Friday that hospitals in Port-au-Prince are overflowing and patients may have to be treated in the streets.

"We are really worried about space," he said.

"If the number of cases continues to increase at the same rate, then we are going to have to adopt some drastic measures. We are going to have to use public spaces and even streets. I can easily see this situation deteriorating to the point where patients are lying in the street, waiting for treatment. At the moment, we just don't have that many options."

UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs stressed that aid funds are needed quickly, or "all our efforts can be outrun by the epidemic."

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Growing up in Africa, I recall being vaccinated against Cholera more than once. (IIRC the protection only lasted for a few months). Does this vaccination no longer exist? Surely it would help in such a horrible situation as this?

Yes, it does help. I have also had the vaccination(I lived in Africa as a child), but it wears off after a few years. Simple filters for the water would also be cheap and effective. This is inhumane. Haiti has NO infrastructure to deliver these goods to where they need to go. They need to work with the organization with a track record of effectiveness that is already on the ground running.

That's a good question. NPR's Richard Knox looked into it, and found several reasons why a cholera vaccine might not be the best option for Haiti. Adults have to get two doses and children three, which would be challenging logistically, and then it takes a few more weeks for immunity to develop. There may not be enough doses of the vaccine available, even if a large-scale campaign were mounted. And such a campaign would probably take resources from the current treatment efforts and prevention campaigns - which, since they emphasize hygiene promotion and clean water, can help prevent transmission of other diseases, too.

I don't think the vaccine is off the table in Haiti, but it may not be a big part of the response in this phase.

By Liz Borkowski (not verified) on 16 Nov 2010 #permalink