Cholera Cases Spur Containment Efforts In Haiti The threat of Hurricane Tomas has passed, but Haiti is facing a cholera outbreak. Amid fears that the deadly waterborne disease could spread quickly in the crowded camps for earthquake survivors, aid agencies and the government are working to contain it.
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Cholera Cases Spur Containment Efforts In Haiti

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Cholera Cases Spur Containment Efforts In Haiti

Cholera Cases Spur Containment Efforts In Haiti

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The dreaded disease cholera may have finally arrived at Haiti's capital. Health officials are investigating more than 100 cases of cholera in Port-au-Prince. There's great fear that the water-borne disease could spread rapidly in the crowded camps for earthquake survivors across the capital. According to the Haitian ministry of health, the outbreak has killed more than 500 people nationwide. At least 8,000 have become sick.

NPR's Jason Beaubien says aid agencies and the government are scrambling to contain the epidemic.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

JASON BEAUBIEN: At the old military airport camp in Port-au-Prince, a Red Cross worker with a megaphone marches through the shacks, announcing that cholera has arrived. The Red Cross envoy warns people to wash their hands, sterilize vegetables and clear garbage from around their shacks.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: This camp houses more than 50,000 people, packed into an abandoned airfield. Aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, the British Red Cross and Partners in Health, are building a special cholera treatment unit at the camp. Despite the fact that it's not yet fully operational, patients are arriving with severe diarrhea. People who enter have to dip their shoes in trays of chlorinated water, and men in surgical masks are spraying the area with what looks like fumigators.

Dr. ANANY PROSPERO (Partners in Health): As you see, we make the decontaminations. We chlorinate water.

BEAUBIEN: Dr. Anany Prospero with Partners in Health says this unit will be used to assess possible cholera cases, provide initial treatment and refer the more serious cases to a local hospital. It will operate 24 hours a day. Dr. Prospero says camp residents are being urged to come to the facility immediately if they have severe diarrhea or vomiting.

Dr. PROSPERO: If you don't receive health care, appropriate health care, you can die in four to six hours.

BEAUBIEN: Even before getting completely up and running, they've already had a half dozen suspected cholera cases here. It could take a few days for lab tests to confirm whether or not these cases are really from the deadly disease. Health officials with aid agencies, including Partners in Health, Concern and the Red Cross, say they worry that the heavy rains and flooding from Hurricane Tomas pushed cholera-contaminated water into more parts of the country.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

BEAUBIEN: Most people in the old military airport camp live in shelters cobbled together out of corrugated metal, sticks and tarps. Other people live in tents. For the 50,000 residents, there are only 178 latrines. Twenty-seven-year-old Jean Charles Micheline, sitting in front of the shack she shares with her husband and three children, says she's terrified about cholera.

Ms. JEAN CHARLES MICHELINE: (Through translator) Very worried about it.

BEAUBIEN: Why is she worried?

Unidentified Man (Translator): (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MICHELINE: (Through translator) It's said that it is contagious. I'm worried that it may catch me. I may catch cholera.

BEAUBIEN: Has she heard of people that have been getting sick in this camp?

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MICHELINE: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: She says she heard about someone just this morning in the market who got it. Micheline shares the same fear of public health officials, that in the chaotic camps around Port-au-Prince, where more than a million people are living in makeshift shelters, cholera could explode like wildfire.

Ms. MICHELINE: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: This is a worst-case scenario, Micheline says. We are already living with all these problems. Here in these conditions, she says, the cholera is just going to multiply.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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