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Haiti groups see number of cholera cases drop

By Trenton Daniel
Associated Press / December 20, 2011
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Haiti has seen a steady decline in the number of cholera cases as the Caribbean nation settles into its dry season, humanitarian groups said Tuesday.

The number of cholera cases has dropped to an average of 10 to 20 cases a day in two separate treatment centers in the crowded capital of Port-au-Prince compared to a bump of an average of 30 to 40 cases a day a month ago, said Dr. Wendy Lai, a medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders Holland.

The current figures are close to an earlier low of nine to 15 cases seen at its treatment centers in July, Lai said.

"We're pretty close to the low as we've ever been," she said by telephone.

The cholera infection rate has fluctuated through Haiti's rainy and dry seasons, with the spikes largely attributable to the showers and floods that cause the waterborne disease to spread more freely in an unsanitary environment.

That was evident at a Doctors Without Borders treatment center in the densely populated area of Carrefour during last spring's rainy season, when as many as 300 new cases were reported a day, Lai said.

The seasonal decline in the number of cholera cases is consistent with the findings of a report released Tuesday by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The bulletin reported health officials logging an average of 300 cases nationwide per day, compared to 500 cases a month ago.

The same agency reported that fatality rates continue to drop or have stabilized in almost all of Haiti's 10 departments, with the exception of the Southeast where it jumped from 2.2 percent in January to 2.4 percent in November.

The mortality rate was once as high as 5 percent but has since dropped as Haitians educate themselves through government and aid agency campaigns about how to seek treatment and avoid the disease. Though easily treatable, cholera causes rapid dehydration and can kill within hours.

The initial mortality rate stemmed in part because the disease was alien to Haiti and few understood it.

There had been no documented cases of cholera in Haiti before the outbreak began a year ago. It was likely introduced to the country through a U.N. peacekeeping battalion from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.

Haiti now has the highest cholera infection rate in the world. Health officials say the disease has killed nearly 7,000 people and sickened another 515,000.

The alleged source of the disease has since become a contentious issue.

Last month, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed a claim against the United Nations on behalf of more than 5,000 cholera victims on the grounds that the world body was responsible for the epidemic.

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