Cholera rages in ru­ral Haiti, over­whelm­ing clin­ics

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

HAITI: A gray-haired woman, her eyes sunken and un­fo­cused from de­hy­dra­tion, stum­bles up a dirt path slumped on the shoul­der of a young man, head­ing to a ru­ral clinic so over­crowded that plas­tic tarps have been strung up out­side to shade dozens who can't fit in­side.

On the path to the clinic, an­other cholera vic­tim lies dazed, her head bleed­ing be­cause she couldn't stay atop the mo­tor­cy­cle taxi that car­ried her along the twist­ing coun­try roads to the treat­ment cen­ter on the front line of Haiti's sud­den bat­tle with cholera.

Nearby, a 16-month-old girl wails as a nurse prods her with a nee­dle, try­ing to find a vein for the in­tra­venous flu­ids she needs to save her life.

Many feared Haiti's grow­ing epi­demic would over­whelm a cap­i­tal teem­ing with more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple left home­less by Jan­uary's earth­quake. But, so far, it is the coun­try­side see­ing the worst of an epi­demic that has killed nearly 1,900 peo­ple since erupt­ing less than two months ago.

Ru­ral clin­ics are over­run by a spec­tral pa­rade of the sick, strain­ing staff and sup­plies at med­i­cal out­posts that could barely han­dle their needs be­fore the epi­demic.

At the three-room clinic near Limbe, in north­ern Haiti, a hand­ful of doc­tors and nurses are treat­ing 120 peo­ple packed into three rooms.

"It's re­ally at­tack­ing us," Guy Val­coure, grand­fa­ther of the 16-month-old, says of the cholera. He piled on the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle with the baby and her mother to make a 40-minute ride in pre-dawn gloom to reach the clinic.

Hold­ing a plas­tic cup in case his grand­daugh­ter gains enough strength to drink some wa­ter, Val­coure watches anx­iously as a nurse tries with­out suc­cess to find a vein to give her in­tra­venous flu­ids. Even­tu­ally, a doc­tor man­ages to get an IV into the baby's foot. "She's go­ing to be OK," the nurse tells Val­coure.

Not ev­ery­one is so for­tu­nate. It was too late to save an old woman car­ried to the clinic on a door over the week­end, says Dr. Ben­son Sergiles, a doc­tor from Cap-Hai­tien on loan to the clinic. "It's get­ting worse by the day," he says, his eyes bleary from be­ing up all night.

And ex­perts say the dis­ease has not yet reached its peak.

The Health Min­istry says there have been more than 80,000 cases since cholera was first de­tected in late Oc­to­ber and the Pan-Amer­i­can Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion projects it could sicken 650,000 peo­ple over the next six months.

U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon, Re­port­ing to the Gen­eral Assem­bly on Fri­day, said that statis­tics about the epi­demic are rough es­ti­mates be­cause the cases are con­cen­trated in slums and ru­ral ar­eas with lit­tle ac­cess to health care.

"Our teams be­lieve the ac­tual num­ber of deaths and cur­rent in­fec­tions may, in fact, be up to twice as high," he said, adding that Haiti will re­quire hun­dreds of more doc­tors, nurses and thou­sands of com­mu­nity health work­ers to deal with the out­break. A makeshift clinic run by the aid group Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders in CapHai­tien is see­ing 250 pa­tients a day and ex­pects two or three times as many in com­ing weeks, said Dr. Es­ther Sterk, a physi­cian from the Nether­lands in charge of the treat­ment cen­ter in a crowded gym­na­sium.

The cases are also ris­ing far­ther into the coun­try­side, as at the lit­tle clinic near Limbe.

"I don't think we're any­where near the end of this," said Dr. John Jensen, a Cana­dian doc­tor vol­un­teer­ing with his wife, a nurse, for nearly a month at the clinic about 12 miles (20 kilo­me­ters) west of Cap-Hai­tien. -Ap

MANAMA: King Ab­dul­lah of Jor­dan delivers a speech at the IISS (In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies) Manama Di­a­logue. -Reuters

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