|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Deputy Special Representative on Situation in Haiti
Experts agreed that the number of cholera cases in Haiti would continue to rise, Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General ad interim, said today at a Headquarters press conference.
“The number of cholera cases continues to expand quite rapidly, as foreseen,” said Mr. Fisher, who is also Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), adding via video teleconference from Port-au-Prince that the disease was now present in the capital and in every department.
As the situation intensified, he continued, the United Nations and its partners on the ground were emphasizing both prevention and treatment education, as well as increased access to early treatment — including wider use of oral rehydration salts and aquatabs to chlorinate water. New treatment centres were being created in Port-au-Prince and throughout the country.
While the number of recorded cases was already high, there were likely to be many more unregistered ones throughout the country, he said, noting that, to date, cholera cases had been recorded by the Ministry of Health, but the United Nations was now reaching out for more local figures. “We are now trying to ramp up the collection of data from communities so that we can get a more realistic figure,” said Mr. Fisher, warning that the number of cases would probably increase significantly when those data were released. “This is far beyond a health or sanitation matter,” he emphasized. “It’s an issue of environmental concern; it’s an issue of national security.”
Communication and education campaigns were in full swing across Haiti, using both old and new media, as well as hands-on approaches, he continued, pointing out that radio messages detailing self-protection measures had been broadcast hourly across the country. On Sunday, a “marathon six-hour programme on cholera” had aired on all national radio stations and many television stations, he said. In addition, health education messages were being disseminated via cell phone messages, posters and other media, while volunteer “camp committees” toured camps for the displaced to disseminate information about cholera directly in the Creole language.
But while the majority of those in the camps had access to safe, chlorinated water and latrines, the situation of people living in slums was more worrisome, Mr. Fisher said, noting that cases were rising faster in such places than elsewhere in the country. Another challenge was stemming the tide of demonstrations against the opening of new treatment centres, he said, adding that protests had been recorded in locales including Saint-Marc and Cap-Haïtien, among other places.
The protests were the result of fear and a lack of proper information, he added. In the face of those concerns, the United Nations communication strategy was now broadening to include messages counteracting fear, he said. “To have a cholera treatment centre in your locality is actually an advantage; it is not a threat to your health,” he stressed, identifying one targeted message. Further complicating the situation was the approach of the national election season, said the Deputy Special Representative. “With elections coming up, we’re concerned that these issues around cholera not be manipulated for political ends.”
Responding to a question about the relationship between the cholera outbreak and the upcoming elections, Mr. Fisher said there had already been initial reports of one politically-motivated demonstration against a new health centre. Despite those concerns, the United Nations was supporting the Government’s current strategy of exploring ways to go ahead with the elections, he said, adding that they included protecting voters from infection while they visited polling booths.
In response to another question about the protests, he said that while MINUSTAH had been involved in the engineering aspect of new treatment centres, it had not been involved in providing security against protests or demonstrations.
Asked about the source of the cholera outbreak, Mr. Fisher confirmed that the particular strain active in the country was new to Haiti, but could have come from anywhere around the world. “Our emphasis today is on trying to contain the number of deaths from what is going to be a very severe outbreak,” he added.
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