GENEVA — A senior United Nations health official has warned that the cholera outbreak in Haiti is not yet contained and has stressed the need to continue enhancing treatment, prevention and response preparedness measures.
Claire-Lise Chaignat, coordinator of the global task force on cholera control at the UN World Health Organisation (WHO), told reporters here that these things must be done even in areas that have not been affected by the epidemic.
“I do not think that we have reached the peak of this epidemic,” said Chaignat, adding that the provision of clean drinking water to populations in affected areas was a key control measure.
She said improvement of sanitation facilities, availability of oral rehydration salts for those already infected, and ensuring that people ate food prepared with clean water and in good hygiene conditions are also important control measures.
Chaignat said that 40 per cent of people living along the Artibonite River in Haiti, which is believed to be the sources of the cholera bacteria, have been reached with water chlorination tablets.
As of yesterday, the UN put the death toll at 284 of the 3,769 cases confirmed, with 96 per cent of cases having been reported in the Artibonite department, and the rest in the Centre department.
Chaignat said the case fatality rate of the outbreak is 7.7 per cent, which is considered high, but is expected to decline as treatment and prevention measures stabilize.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Haiti’s health ministry and WHO have developed a strategy to ensure the availability of all basic medical supplies required to respond to the disease and strengthen the capacity of treatment centres and hospitals.
OCHA said 80 primary health care centres and 10 special cholera treatment units are being equipped to better handle cases, while eight hospitals now have the capacity to treat the most severe cases.
Meantime, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said it is adapting 22,000 standard hygiene kits to meet specific needs to reduce the spread of the disease. The kits contain chlorine water purification pills, rehydration salts and soap to maintain higher levels of hygiene.
The kits will be distributed mainly to pregnant women, the agency said, warning that cholera may increase the risk of miscarriage and premature births.
“We are expecting a significant increase in deliveries between next month and April 2011,” said Igor Bosc, the UNFPA Representative in Haiti.
“It is important that we act now by strengthening maternity wards in hospitals and clinics to enable them to respond to obstetric emergencies as they arise,” he said.
Pregnant women living with HIV have a double risk of a weakened immune system and are more likely to have a miscarriage or give birth prematurely, according to UNFPA.
“Programmes designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV must take the epidemic and the increased vulnerabilities into consideration,” Bosc said.