Video: Quake-ravaged Haiti faces cholera crisis

  1. Closed captioning of: Quake-ravaged Haiti faces cholera crisis

    >>> we begin with the growing crisis in haiti where a deadly disease has killed hundreds of people in haiti . nancy snyderman is in haiti , good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, natalee. i'm in a small town of st. marks. this is considered the rural area of the country side , the epicenter of the cholera epidem epidemic. this is what's concerning public health officials because they don't want the disease to spread from the country side to port-au-prince. for now the epidemic is concept traited in the rural areas of haiti . the hospitals there are inundated with the ill lying on floors, dehydrated children hooked up to ivs and too weak to move. cholera is caused by ingesting contaminated water or food. cholera hasn't been seen in haiti for 50 years, but now that it's here, officials are concerned that people in the country side will come to port-au-prince and that's going to make things worse. people are dying, says this woman, people know they're not supposed to drink from the with an estimated 1 .3 million people still living in tent camps across the country and hundreds of thousands concentrated here, preventing an outbreak like this has been a race against time . i'm standing outside st. nithe hospital where four children have been brought just this morning. frankly, natalee, to contain this and to keep it from spreading to the rest of haiti .

Ramon Espinosa  /  AP
A child suffering cholera symptoms cries as she is comforted by a woman at a hospital in Grande-Saline, Haiti, on Saturday.
By
updated 10/25/2010 12:45:30 PM ET 2010-10-25T16:45:30

Health authorities in Haiti say a deadly cholera outbreak is beginning to stabilize.

Michel Thieren of the Pan-American Health Organization says the fatality rate and the number of new infections are dropping. But he says the disease is still expected to spread gradually beyond the central rural area where it emerged last week.

Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee said Monday that 259 people have died, but only six "since yesterday." The waterborne, bacterial disease causes acute diarrhea that can kill within hours.

Aid groups have been racing to keep cholera from reaching the quake-hit capital. Timothee said the government has been asked to remove garbage around the homeless camps hosting more than 1 million people.

Five cholera patients have been reported in Haiti's capital, heightening worries that the disease could reach the sprawling tent slums where abysmal hygiene, poor sanitation, and widespread poverty could rapidly spread it. But government officials said Sunday that all five apparently got cholera outside Port-au-Prince, and they voiced hope that the deadly bacterial disease could be confined to the rural areas where the outbreak originated last week.

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'We can prevent it.'
"It's not difficult to prevent the spread to Port-au-Prince. We can prevent it," said Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee. He said tightly limiting movement of patients and careful disposal of bodies can stave off a major medical disaster.

If efforts to keep cholera out of the camps fail, "The worst case would be that we have hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time," said Claude Surena, president of the Haiti Medical Association. Cholera can cause vomiting and diarrhea so severe it can kill from dehydration in hours.

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Doctors Without Borders issued a statement saying that some Port-au-Prince residents were suffering from watery diarrhea and were being treated at facilities in the capital city. Cholera infection among the patients had not been confirmed, however, and aid workers stressed that diarrhea has not been uncommon in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake.

"Medical teams have treated many people with watery diarrhea over the last several months," Doctors Without Borders said.

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Aid workers in the impoverished nation say the risk is magnified by the extreme poverty faced by people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed as many as 300,000 people and destroyed much of the capital city. Haitians living in the camps risk disease by failing to wash their hands, or scooping up standing water and then proceeding to wash fruits and vegetables.

"There are limited ways you can wash your hands and keep your hands washed with water in slums like we have here," said Michel Thieren, an official with the Pan-American Health Organization in Haiti. "The conditions for transmission are much higher."

Aid groups sending soap, purification tablets
Aid workers are coaching thousands of impoverished families how best to avoid cholera. Various aid groups are providing soap and water purification tablets and educating people in Port-au-Prince's camps about the importance of washing their hands.

Ramon Espinosa  /  AP
The coffin of Frist Fleurant, 10, who died of cholera, sits atop a motorcycle before his burial in Rossignol, Haiti, on Sunday, Oct. 24.

Aid groups also began training more staff about cholera and where to direct people with symptoms. The disease had not been seen in Haiti for decades, and many people don't know about it.

Members of one grassroots Haitian organization traveled around Port-au-Prince's camps booming warnings about cholera from speakers in the bed of a pickup truck.

"Many people have become sick," announced Etant Dupain, in front of the Champs de Mars camp by Haiti's broken national palace. "If you have a family member that has diarrhea, bring them to the hospital immediately. Have them use separate latrines."

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In a promising development, aid group Partners in Health said hospital management was improving in the city at the center of the initial outbreak, St. Marc, which is about a 60-mile (95-kilometer) drive northwest of Haiti. Just 300 patients were hospitalized on Saturday, a number that has decreased by the end of each day.

Some health experts were hopeful that they will be able to control the outbreak of cholera in impoverished Haiti.

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"In a way, it couldn't have happened at a better moment than now because everyone is on the field — lots of (non-governmental organizations), lots of money. We haven't had any hurricanes so far this fall but people are here, and people are prepared," said Marc Paquette, Haiti director for the Canadian branch of Medecins du Monde.

Associated Press writer David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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