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General News    H4'ed 1/11/11

OCHA: 2.2 Million Haitian Children at Risk for Cholera

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Nearly 2.2 million Haitian school children are at risk of contracting cholera due to poor sanitation and health practices, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The agency said that the prevention activities, including training of teachers and distribution of equipment for washing hands are not sufficient to stop the spread of the disease in schools. You can read the full report here

To its credit, Haitilibre was the first news organization to report this.

This report does not take into account the unknown numbers of children in the IDP camps (pictured here), but we know they are there and will not forget them

In a frustratingly stark contrast to the OCHA report, the US State Department presented a rather rosy teleconference yesterday, elaborating on what is really a broken promise to Haiti saying we should be "proud" of ourselves.
"The response to the cholera epidemic has been something that we can be incredibly proud of. As you heard, we've been working at health for a while and our most recent projects resulted in services accessible to 50 percent of the population. We support services to 50 percent of the population," said USAID Haiti Mission Director Carleene Dei.
Does saying this make it so?
Right off the bat, DOS got its figures wrong, obviously not reading the latest figures from OCHA and the Haitian Ministry of Health.
"We do have a situation now where they've, we have identified some 157,000 cholera cases. About half of those have involved hospitalization. We have seen about 3,500 deaths."
This is completely wrong. The real figures are 171,304 cholera cases and 3,651 deaths nationwide, as of January 1, 2011, as OCHA reports. The real figures are higher due to lack of contact in rural areas.
My husband, an emergency physician, is now working in a rural area in Haiti. His last communication said, "Cholera is spreading in the rural areas."
OCHA says the same.

The MSPP has reported 171,304 cholera cases and 3,651 deaths nationwide, as of 1 January 2011.  The North-East Department remains severely affected where as many as 100 new cases a day have been reported by the MSPP. The response has been hampered by logistical difficulties and a lack of beds. In the
South Department, a total of 2,733 cases and 142 deaths have been reported. In the South-East, a total of 1,226 cases and 161 deaths were notified in the reporting period. Nippes is currently underserved by health partners; 955 cases and 97 deaths have been reported in that department by the MSPP. According to current MSPP data the epidemic is stabilizing in some parts of the country,  mainly in Artibonite,  but  it  is rising in others, particularly in the south.
DOS seems to be operating both in a vacuum and in a completely reactive mode.
The USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the CDC  say they "are working together to ensure uninterrupted movement of cholera prevention."
What they are offering are 100 metric tons of soap, 30 metric tons of chlorine, and 500,000 oral rehydration packets.
On January 5, USAID/OFDA grantee Samaritan's Purse transported a USAID/OFDA-funded boat motor from a warehouse in Port-au-Prince to Île - Vache, in the South Department.  The boat will enable transport of cholera patients from the island to Les Cayes, South Department, providing access to critical, previously inaccessible care.   
This is all well and good, but can you imagine evacuating fluids from every body orifice and taking a boat ride to get care, providing you don't pass the critical window for care and die of dehydration?

How many of these DOS officials have visited a cholera treatment center, where "beds" consist of a plastic wrapped cot with a hole cut for evacuation of feces and a bucket for vomit? Can you fathom taking boat ride in this condition?
How many times must it be said that Haitians cannot rely upon this bandaid approach to cholera management?
There has been no challenge to the exorbitant amount of money USAID says it has spent.
"In terms of our response to the earthquake, the figure that we use is well over a billion dollars, and that combines with what the Department of Defense spent, what we spent. But in health specifically, we have spent about 115 million, that's for nutrition health and for non-cholera, plus an additional 40 million for cholera," USAID's Dei told journalists.

But, OCHA reports that cholera prevention efforts in schools have been delayed due to lack of adequate funding.

Yesterday's press conference began with an introduction by Mark C. Toner, acting Deputy Department Spokesman. He urged brevity, saying, "Time is relatively tight."
Well, Haiti does not have much time, either.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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