Haiti death toll rises as cholera spreads to Port-au-Prince

At least 10,000 people suffering from cholera in hospitals in Haiti as disease reaches country's capital

The death toll from the cholera epidemic in Haiti has risen to 644, amid fears that the disease could spread rapidly now it has arrived in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The ministry of health said the spread of the disease was "a matter of national security", with at least 10,000 people suffering from cholera in hospitals across the country.

Radio reports suggest the number of deaths could exceed 700 when updated figures are released tomorrow. Approximately 170 people are being treated in hospitals in the capital where more than 70 people have died from the disease, according to the Pan American Health Organisation (Paho).

Health officials have warned that conditions in the city of 3 million people are ripe for thousands more infections, with more than 1.3 million survivors of Haiti's devastating earthquake of 12 January still living in tents and tarpaulin camps.

Paho fears that the epidemic could lead to more than 270,000 additional cases of cholera over the next six years.

The disease broke out in the Artibonite river valley in central Haiti in mid-October and cases have since soared, spreading to half of the country's 10 regions. As well as having reached the capital, it is also spreading quickly in the north-west coastal city of Gonaives.

Pierrelus Saint-Justin, the city's mayor, said he had personally buried 31 people on Tuesday. "From 5 November until today, we have buried at least 70 people and that is only in the downtown area," he told Reuters. "There are more people who died in rural areas surrounding Gonaives."

Flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas is thought to have exacerbated conditions and helped further spread the water-borne disease.

Cholera causes diarrhoea and vomiting and leads to severe dehydration. It can kill rapidly, although it can be easily and successfully treated with rehydration and antibiotics.

Much of Haiti is in a pitiful state. January's earthquake killed about 300,000 people, destroyed infrastructure and left many survivors living in tents and rubble with poor diet and hygiene.

Even before the disaster, sanitation in Port-au-Prince was appalling, but with so many homeless people the level of "open defecation" has spiked. Many of the very young and elderly lack protective immunity against disease, according to Paho.


David Batty

The GuardianTramp

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