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Protests Break Out as Cholera Spreads in Haiti

  • Laurel Bowman

A child suffering cholera symptoms is checked by a doctor at the Doctors Without Borders temporary hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 16 Nov 2010

As the death toll surpasses 1,000 from the cholera outbreak in Haiti, the United Nations and medical personnel struggle to keep pace. Nearly 17,000 people have been hospitalized. Violent protests have resulted in at least two deaths.

Protesters in Haiti blame the United Nations for the deadly cholera outbreak that is ravaging the Caribbean nation.

The protesters say UN peacekeepers from Nepal are the source of the waterborne disease. The United Nations has identified this strain as one with origins in Southeast Asia.

This UN spokesman ties the uproar to uncertainty surrounding the November 28 presidential and legislative elections.

"What I feel is that all this vulnerability that the population feels right now, is being manipulated by some actors and directing the population towards one direction or the other, which is sometimes not in our favor," said Vicenzo Pugliese, with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

In the meantime, medical personnel are preparing for an onslaught of patients in and around Port-au-Prince.

Most of the more than one million Haitians displaced by a powerful earthquake last January live in tent cities around the capital, and cholera bacteria spread easily through fecal contamination, poor hygiene and lack of sanitation.

"Before this, Port-au-Prince for the most part, was a large urban slum with very poor water and sanitation conditions. This is ripe for the rapid spread of cholera," Dr. Jon Andrus, with Pan American Health Organization. "We have deployed communications experts that are working on community messages in the local Creole language to ensure that families receive such messages and understand them and it gets translated into behavior."

Cholera strikes fast. Without rehydration therapy, or antibiotics for severe cases, it can kill in a matter of hours.