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Home Publications Blogs Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch U.S., WHO Preparing for Cholera Epidemic in Haiti “For Years to Come”

U.S., WHO Preparing for Cholera Epidemic in Haiti “For Years to Come”

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Friday, 12 November 2010 18:09
Media reports say over 800 people have now died from cholera in Haiti, including at least 10 so far in Port-au-Prince, where some 278 cases have been detected. To deal with the worsening crisis, the UN is requesting some $164 million. The urgency of the situation was made clear by Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. humanitarian office, who "told reporters in Geneva that the funds need to be provided quickly 'otherwise all our efforts can be outrun by the epidemic.'"

Yet, international agencies, and the U.S. government, already seem to be preparing for “an epidemic” that could last for years, killing thousands of people. As AP reported today:
The World Health Organization said Friday that the epidemic isn't likely to end soon.

"The projections of 200,000 cases over the next six to twelve months shows the amplitude of what could be expected," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl. He noted that the current fatality rate of 6.5 percent is far higher than it should be.

"Cholera, now that it is in Haiti, probably the bacteria will be there for a number of years to come," he added. "It will not go away."
The blog Biosurveillance, run by an MD with an impressive CV detailing his experience in, among other areas, early disease detection, attributes a quote to a “senior U.S. government official”:
...we think [the cholera epidemic] can be managed effectively, as the response has been good in Haiti, and the GOH with our help has gotten out ahead of the curve, and are working hard to stay there...This is not to say that 1,500-2,000 or so deaths from cholera a year in Haiti for the next several years is acceptable, and we hope to get the mortality rates down well below that. But this is not in the same league as the earthquake either, so I think you can turn off the alarm bells.
Such a worsening, prolonged epidemic – at least on the scale predicted by the U.S. and WHO -- might be avoided if funds are made available for treatment. Yet some $800 in outstanding aid pledges from the U.S. government continues to be held up over fears it could “be stolen or misused -- not an easy task in a country notorious for corruption,” as AP put it, before citing State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley:
"Given the weak governmental institutions that existed in Haiti even before the earthquake, Congress wants to be sure we have that accountability in place before these funds are obligated.”
If Crowley explained the safeguards in place that allow for assurances that funds sent to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq do not continue to be “stolen or misused,” as they have been repeatedly in the past, AP did not report it.

Even if this money were disbursed next week, it isn’t likely it would be used to treat cholera, as this “reconstruction pledge is a different pool of money, intended to support long-term rebuilding of the nation and its economy,” as AP reported yesterday, noting that the first tranche - $120 million - of the U.S.’ $1.15 billion pledge is finally being delivered “to the World Bank-run Haiti Reconstruction Fund” for “rubble removal, housing, a partial credit guarantee fund, support for an Inter-American Development Bank education reform plan and budget support for the Haitian government.”

The U.S. is far from the only country to procrastinate in fulfilling its aid pledges. Surveying the international community’s commitments, AP reports:
Less than 38 percent of the $5.6 billion pledged for 2010-11 has been delivered. Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, the Caribbean Development Bank — and, until the money arrives, the U.S. — have yet to give any of their promised funds, according to Bill Clinton's U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

After 10 months living among piles of rubble, more than 1 million without homes and their country now being ravaged by a cholera epidemic, many Haitians have lost faith that the pledged money will help, even if all of it does arrive.

"This money is going to be for the rich people," said Lonise Atilma, who lives in a tent camp in the impoverished Martissant district of Port-au-Prince. "We have been living in a tent since Jan. 12 ... We are still there, suffering, and we're not going to see this money."
Meanwhile, Deutsche Presse Agentur reports:
Doctors in the earthquake-shattered country on Friday expressed concerns that they would soon have to treat cholera patients in unhygienic conditions.

'It's a really worrying situation for us at the moment,' a doctor from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) said.

'All hospitals in Port-au-Prince are overflowing with patients and we're seeing seven times the total amount of cases we had three days ago.'

At a medical centre in Cite Soleil, a slum in the north of the capital, MSF recorded 216 cases of cholera on Thursday, nearly 10 times as many as earlier this week.

'If the number of cases continues to increase at the same rate, then we're going to have to adopt some drastic measures to be able to treat people,' the MSF doctor said.

'We're going to have to use public spaces and even streets.'

Tags: aid distribution | disease | sanitation | UN

 

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