Cholera spreads rapidly in Haiti, overwhelming local hospitals

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Thousands of people across Haiti are becoming sick with cholera amidst a rapidly spreading outbreak that is straining the resources of non-profit originations and local hospitals.

Medical staff struggle to provide care amid the ongoing economic and political crisis, and fuel, water and other basic supplies growing scarcer by the day.


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Many Haitians are dying because they are unable to reach a hospital in time because of a spike in gang violence that makes it unsafe for people to leave their communities.

In addition, the lack of fuel has shut down public transport, gas stations and other key businesses.

Medical staff at an open air clinic in the capital on Thursday came to the aid of Stanley Joliva.

They pumped air into his lungs and gave him chest compressions, but their efforts to save him were unsuccessful.

Less than an hour later, the body of the 22-year-old was laid on the floor, wrapped in a white plastic bag with the date of his death scrawled on top.

His mother, Vilene Enfant, sat next to the body.

“Only God knows my pain,” she said.

Staff at the Doctors Without Borders treatment centre in Port-au-Prince struggle to deal with the rush of patients arriving every day.

Families keep bringing in their loved ones, sometimes dragging their limp bodies into the crowded outdoor clinic where the smell of waste fills the air.

Dozens of patients sit on white buckets or lay on stretchers as IV lines run up to bags of rehydration fluids that gleam in the sun.

So far this month, Doctors Without Borders has treated some 1,800 patients at their four centers in the capital.

Cholera is a bacteria that sickens people who swallow contaminated food or water, and it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, in some cases leading to death.

Haiti’s first major brush with cholera occurred more than a decade ago when United Nations peacekeepers introduced the bacteria into the country’s biggest river via sewage runoff at their base.

Nearly 10,000 people died, and thousands of others were sickened.

The cases eventually dwindled to the point where the World Health Organization was expected to declare Haiti cholera-free this year.

But on 2 October, Haitian officials announced that cholera had returned.

At least 40 deaths and 1,700 suspected cases have been reported so far.

But officials believe the numbers are much higher, especially in crowded and unsanitary shanty towns and government shelters where thousands of Haitians live.

Worsening the situation is a lack of fuel and water that began to dwindle last month when a powerful gangs surrounded a key fuel terminal and demanded the resignation of the prime minister.

Gas stations and businesses including water companies have closed, forcing an increasing number of people to rely on untreated water.

Children younger than age 14 make up half of cholera cases in Haiti, according to UNICEF.

Haiti’s poverty has worsened the situation.

Officials have warned that growing cases of severe malnutrition make children more vulnerable to illness.

The increasing demand for help is squeezing Doctors Without Borders and others as they struggle to care for patients.

Life is paralyzed for many Haitians, including Enfant, as she mourns her son’s death.

She wants to bury him in her southern coastal hometown of Les Cayes, but cannot afford the 55,000 gourdes ($430) it would cost to transport his body.

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