Latrine shortage could worsen public health in Haiti, UN agency says

Haitians build temporary homes in Port-au-Prince

9 February 2010 – Sanitation has become a pressing need in Haiti and the lack of it could pose health problems for the nearly 1 million people living in temporary settlements ahead of the rainy season, United Nations officials warned today.

“Some 18,000 latrines are needed in Port-au-Prince for 900,000 people. Less than 5 per cent of the need for latrines has been met,” Paul Garwood, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson in Geneva, told journalists. The need is calculated on the basis of one latrine per 50 people.

There are more than 1.2 million people are living in spontaneous settlements, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced today, and nearly 480,000 have left Port-au-Prince for neighbouring areas, putting additional stress on the rural population in those towns to support the displaced persons.

Despite the high numbers of people and the need for greater sanitation, Mr. Garwood noted that there has not been a notable increase in infectious diseases so far. He said that acute respiratory infections are the most commonly reported infectious disease, accounting for up to a quarter of consultations. Diarrhoeal diseases represent up to 12 per cent of cases.

The next serious category is trauma injuries, such as broken bones sustained during the quake. While slowly decreasing, they still account for more than 10 per cent of cases.

Clinics are in need of supplies. UN agencies and donor countries provide medicines to various health partners on a daily basis through a large-scale coordinated effort run out of Haiti’s pharmaceuticals hub in Port-au-Prince known by its acronym PROMESS (Program on Essential Medicine and Supplies). The warehouse was recently reorganized to make it more effective.

Mr. Garwood said that more than 22 containers with some 200 types of medical supplies have now arrived. The containers also included 1,000 beds, more than 200 stretchers and other items such as wheelchairs, crutches, bed sheets, blankets and pillows.

Outside of Port-au-Prince, more than 1.5 tons of essential drugs were delivered this month to Les Cayes, Jérémie, Port-de-Paix and Gonaïves. WHO is expected soon to send basic emergency medicines that can treat 705,000 people for the next month.

UN officials are concerned about the rainy season that is due to start in April. Mr. Garwood warned that the rains could increase morbidity rates for childhood diseases, such as acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea.

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