The top United Nations humanitarian official in Haiti has voiced concern over the slow response to an appeal sent out nine days ago seeking $164 million to curb the spread of the cholera outbreak that has infected nearly 20,000 people and killed hundreds over the past month.
“While we are very grateful for the contributions received so far, both cash and in-kind, so far we only have received less than 10 per cent of what we need,” Nigel Fisher, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, said yesterday.
“Critical supplies and skills are urgently needed. We need doctors, nurses, water purification systems, chlorine tablets, soap, oral rehydration salts, tents for cholera treatment centres and a range of other supplies,” he said.
The spread of the disease was accelerated by flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas that hit Haiti on 5 November. Ongoing efforts by the Government and humanitarian agencies to combat the spread of cholera have been impeded by recent riots in the city of Cap Haitien, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
As of yesterday, a total of 50,000 people had sought medical attention and 19,646 of them have been confirmed to be suffering from cholera. The death toll stands at about 1,100.
“Cholera is an extremely simple disease to cure, and the case mortality rate of 2.4 per cent in medical facilities shows that almost all patients receiving help are surviving,” said Mr Fisher. “Without medical help, the mortality rate will increase dramatically. Oral rehydration salts or home-made sugar-salt solutions are enough to treat 80 per cent of the cases. If we can provide timely treatment to patients we can save lives,” he added.
The Cholera Response Plan for which the $164 million is sought focuses on the need to improve water and sanitation and on public information to help prevent the spread of the disease, as well as scaling up medical capacity by building specialized cholera treatment centres (CTCs), smaller treatment units and oral rehydration centres. The plan includes activities to be undertaken by nearly 50 non-governmental organizations.
So far 36 CTCs have already been set up nationwide along with 61 smaller treatment units. There are plans to set up CTUs in every hospital in Haiti.
On Friday, humanitarian agencies distributed 40 tonnes of medical supplies. The response strategy also provides for 650 oral rehydration centres where lifesaving rehydration salts can be administered.
Distribution of water purification tablets, oral rehydration salts and soap is ongoing across the country, as is a large scale public information campaign.
“We also need to recognize that this appeal relates to emergency response needs now. In the longer term, effective management of cholera and other communicable diseases that Haitians suffer from every day must mean proper investment in Haitian capabilities, in protected water supplies and environmental sanitation systems across the country, and in proper waste disposal methods. The reality we must all face is that cholera is here to stay in Haiti. We must minimize unsanitary conditions that foster epidemics,” he added.