Earthquake supplies: Why Haiti may turn tide of cholera outbreak

Earthquake supplies brought into Haiti after the Jan. 12 quake include medical and sanitation supplies to stop or battle any cholera outbreak. Health officials in St. Marc saw a drop in cases Saturday.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
Health officials are taking steps to prevent an outbreak of cholera in refugee camps in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Aid groups stockpiled earthquake supplies, including medicine to treat cholera, after the Jan. 12 quake.

Five cholera patients have been reported in Haiti's capital, heightening worries that the disease could reach the sprawling tent slums where abysmal hygiene, poor sanitation, and widespread poverty could rapidly spread it. But government officials said Sunday that all five apparently got cholera outside Port-au-Prince, and they voiced hope that the disease could be confined to the rural areas where the outbreak originated last week.

"It's not difficult to prevent the spread to Port-au-Prince. We can prevent it," said Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee. He said tightly limiting movement of patients and careful disposal of bodies can stave off a major medical disaster.

The cholera outbreak has left 250 people dead and more than 3,000 ill.

Cholera is typically contracted through drinking contaminated water. Health officials say education - teaching people good hygiene - can prevent its spread. Also, since the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed as many as 300,000 people, aid workers say that they have been prepared for the possibility of an outbreak of the disease. There are large supplies of antidote on hand.

There are many Haitians in the capital of Port-au-Prince - left homeless by the quake - who are now living in overcrowded refugee camps and slums.
Aid workers are coaching thousands of impoverished families how best to avoid cholera. Various aid groups are providing soap and water purification tablets and educating people in Port-au-Prince's camps about the importance of washing their hands.

In a promising development, aid group Partners in Health said hospital management was improving in the city at the center of the initial outbreak, St. Marc, which is about a 60-mile (95-kilometer) drive northwest of Haiti. Just 300 patients were hospitalized on Saturday, a number that has decreased by the end of each day.

Some health experts were hopeful that they will be able to control the outbreak of cholera in impoverished Haiti.

"In a way, it couldn't have happened at a better moment than now because everyone is on the field — lots of (non-governmental organizations), lots of money. We haven't had any hurricanes so far this fall but people are here, and people are prepared," said Marc Paquette, Haiti director for the Canadian branch of Medecins du Monde.


Associated Press writer David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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