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UN Says Violence Jeopardizing Cholera Assistance in Haiti

Refugees react to the effects of tear gas fired by police and UN soldiers during a protest in an area where displaced earthquake survivors live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 18 Nov. 2010
Refugees react to the effects of tear gas fired by police and UN soldiers during a protest in an area where displaced earthquake survivors live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 18 Nov. 2010

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Lisa Schlein

U.N. aid agencies say access to health facilities and rapid treatment are key to preventing the spread and escalation of deaths from cholera in Haiti. The aid agencies warn violence is jeopardizing their ability to help the victims.

Higher number of causalities than reported

Latest figures on the cholera epidemic from the Haitian Ministry of Public Health are more than 1,100 deaths and nearly 18,400 hospitalizations. But, U.N. aid agencies note these statistics are several days old and the true number of deaths and hospitalizations are probably higher.

Cholera is confirmed in seven Haitian regions. Only three remain free of the disease. World Health Organization Communications Officer, Christian Lindmeier has just returned from two weeks in Haiti.

U.N. agencies' response

He said aid workers are trying to inform people their lives could depend upon reaching a cholera treatment center quickly. Unfortunately, he says, civil unrest in Haiti is slowing cholera prevention and treatment supplies from reaching affected areas.

"The riots we had recently are certainly not helping either," Lindmeier said. "That are the reports from Monday and Tuesday we are getting, that people simply did not dare go to facilities or did not make it to the facilities and, of course supply deliveries to the health facilities have to be halted as well if the security situation deteriorates. So, nothing of this is very favorable, but it adds to the death toll."  

Aid agencies say their efforts to control the cholera epidemic are being seriously hampered by riots. Many Haitians blame Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers for bringing the cholera epidemic to their country.

The United Nations says vital water, sanitation and hygiene projects are being interrupted. A World Food Program warehouse was looted and burned. Another casualty is a cholera-training program for health professionals. It has had to be halted.

Violence mars delivery of supplies

Spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund, Marixie Mercado, says the violence is jeopardizing the delivery of life-saving supplies.

"The northern department already has a hospital fatality rate of 7.5 percent, which is the highest in the country," Mercado said. "And, according to PAHO [The Pan American Health Organization] and UNICEF this rate could be multiplied by five if patients do not have access to health services…According to the Ministry of Health, 12 percent of the deaths so far have been among children under five years old. This is as of the 14th of November. And, again just to underline, that this is likely an underestimation of deaths."  

The United Nations is sending 11 trucks full of material to cholera-affected regions on Friday. Two helicopter airlifts also are scheduled.

Aid work continues

Aid workers say they hope the convoy will not be interrupted by more riots. They say it is important they be able to bring more medical equipment to the departments. There they will be distributed to communities, hospitals and cholera treatment centers.

See related video report by Elizabeth Lee:

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