Diphtheria cases in Haitian camp prompt UN-backed emergency vaccination

18 May 2010

United Nations agencies are helping health authorities in Haiti carry out an emergency vaccination campaign after an outbreak of diphtheria in the capital, Port-au-Prince, a spokesperson with the world body said today.

Cases of the disease were first reported on Saturday in Camp Batimat in Cité Soleil district, one of the settlements housing people displaced by the January earthquake, Christiane Berthiaume, spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told reporters in Geneva.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are supporting the vaccination campaign led by Haiti’s health ministry. About 2,000 people thought to have been exposed to the diphtheria bacterium are being specifically targeted in the vaccination campaign, carried out by more than 80 vaccinators.

Diphtheria is an infectious disease that spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets from the throat through coughing and sneezing. The illness usually affects the tonsils, pharynx, larynx and occasionally the skin. Symptoms range from a moderately sore throat to toxic life-threatening diphtheria of the larynx or of the lower and upper respiratory tracts.

Since February, an estimated 888,000 people living in displaced persons camps in Haiti have been vaccinated in the ongoing campaign against diphtheria, including more than 220,000 children under the age of eight.

A second phase of the campaign will start in June and will target people living outside the camps.

Meanwhile, Edmond Mulet, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Haiti, on Monday visited camp “Tepis Vert” in Cité Soleil district to assess the living conditions and the needs of the 7,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) there.

“We are here to better understand you, listen to you and try to solve the problems,” Mr. Mulet told inhabitants of the camp, who have been suffering from inadequate basic services, including lack of sanitation facilities. The camp is also prone to flooding.


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