UN sounds alarm as violence in Haiti impedes cholera response

Reports out of the capital Port-Au-Prince claims that protests, which began in the north and have spread to other areas, have prevented aid agencies from delivering life-saving supplies for the people affected, the number of which has topped 18,000 as of 15th November. 

“If this situation continues, more and more patients in desperate need of care are likely to die and more and more Haitians awaiting access to preventive care may be overtaken by the epidemic,” warned Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti.

UN agencies on the ground issued a joint statement today calling for an end to the violent protests that are undermining the response to the epidemic, which began in late October and is spreading rapidly, and which has so far claimed some 1,110 lives.

According to Dr Lea Guido, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), “The number of deaths from cholera is increasing and the security situation has prevented supplies from reaching those who most need them, such as malnourished children, pregnant women and the elderly.”

The violence is preventing the World Food Programme (WFP) from providing daily hot meals to 190,000 children in schools in Cap Haitian in the north-east, and from assisting 35,000 pregnant women and children under the age of five to prevent malnutrition.

Agencies, including WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are raising awareness in communities about how to wash hands properly, how to treat people with signs of diarrhoea and how to prepare oral rehydration salts.

Cholera is easily treatable with the prompt administration of oral rehydration salts or, in more severe cases, with intravenous fluids. If left untreated, however, it can kill within hours.

Ensuring safe water and sanitation is a major challenge in Haiti, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said, noting that before January’s devastating earthquake, fewer than 1 in 4 people in urban areas and 1 in 10 people in rural areas had access to sanitation.

“For UNICEF and partners, the number one priority is thus treatment, prevention and improving hygiene practices,” she told a news conference in Geneva today (Saturday, 20th November).

Last week UN agencies and their partners appealed for $164 million for the Cholera Inter-Sector Response Strategy for Haiti, which aims to get additional doctors, medicines and water purification equipment to respond to the epidemic.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stressed that relief organizations are in urgent need of financing and supplies, as well as for training staff on the ground. 

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