Haiti: going to vote will not spread cholera, UN says as efforts mount to stem disease

Haitian national identity cards ready for distribution ahead of the 28 November 2010 elections

26 November 2010 – Going forward with elections in Haiti this Sunday is not expected to increase the spread of cholera, a top official at the regional arm of the United Nations health agency has said, while adding that cases of the epidemic have now been confirmed in all 10 of the country’s departments, or administrative regions.

The Caribbean nation, which has been dealing with the aftermath of January’s devastating earthquake and the recent cholera outbreak, is scheduled to go ahead with the holding of general elections on 28 November.

An estimated 4.5 million voters will cast their ballots in more than 11,000 polling stations to elect the president, senators and members of parliaments in constituencies where elections are due.

“The kind of movement and congregating you see with people going to vote is not the kind of movement that creates an increased risk of cholera transmission,” said Jon K. Andrus, Deputy Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional arm of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Close contact does not put people at greater risk of cholera the way it would, for example, for flu,” Dr. Andrus noted in a news release issued yesterday, adding that cholera is not a communicable disease and is transmitted almost exclusively through faecal contamination of water and food.

There have been over 1,600 cholera deaths since the outbreak began in late October, according to Haitian authorities, while the number of estimated cases is estimated by PAHO to be around 50,000.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke by telephone yesterday with Haitian President René Préval, met in New York today with a large number of ambassadors at the UN from the Americas, Europe and Asia to press them to send trained medical professionals to Haiti to help deal with the cholera outbreak.

PAHO estimates that over 350 doctors, over 2,000 nurses and over 2,200 additional support staff are needed for the next three months to deal with the outbreak. Currently only around 10 per cent of households outside the capital are estimated to be getting access to soap and clean water, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The Office added that oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets, chlorine, body bags, medical supplies, soap, latrines and other supplies are in short supply. Some 4 million water purification tablets and 11,000 bars of soap are needed just in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and just for the next two weeks.

“All this costs money, which is why I hope donors will continue to fund the $164 million cholera response strategy. But it also requires the United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and other countries in the region and beyond to look again, to see if they can do more to help the response,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, who visited the country this week.

Only $19.4 million has been received so far for the strategy, which aims to set up more treatment centres, scale-up public information campaigns to help people understand how to prevent infection, and increase supplies of medical equipment, rehydration salts, water purification tablets and other essential materials.

To further encourage prevention, PAHO/WHO is providing 22,000 educational posters for distribution to voting centres ahead of Sunday’s polls. Produced in collaboration with Haiti’s Ministry of Health, the posters describe how to prevent cholera and what to do if one becomes ill. They are being distributed by the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as part of its efforts to support the elections.

The MINUSTAH police unit has also assisted the Haitian National Police assess security risks in all voting areas, and both forces have developed a comprehensive security plan.


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