Number of deaths from cholera in Haiti nears 1000

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 17 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6569
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

The surge in the number of people with cholera in Haiti has stretched medical facilities on the island to the limit, leaving many facilities in urgent need of more personnel and equipment, say authorities and relief organisations. The World Health Organization warned last week that up to 200 000 people could contract cholera over the next six to 12 months.

The Haitian ministry of health said that, up to 12 November, nearly 15 000 people had been admitted to hospital for cholera and that 917 had died.

Stefano Zannini, head of mission in Haiti for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, said that the number of cases is overwhelming its own facilities as well as those in the public system.

“It’s a really worrying situation for us at the moment. All of the hospitals in Port-au-Prince are overflowing with patients, and we’re seeing seven times the total amount of cases we had three days ago,” he said.

A WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, said, “The death rate isn’t increasing, but it’s still much higher than usual at 6-7%. It should be much lower [around 1% of cases].”

He added, “Unfortunately it will spread,” and that emphasis was being placed on prevention measures.

“If you can prevent it, you have won two thirds of the game,” said Mr Hartl. People were being told how to separate dirty and clean water, to avoid drinking contaminated water from rivers, and to go to treatment centres promptly if they show symptoms.

He said that 15 cholera treatment centres were already operating on the island. Seven of these are in Port-au-Prince, with a total capacity of 1000 beds. An additional 10 cholera treatment centres—large standalone tents each with a capacity of 100-400 beds—are in the process of being set up for severe cases. Hospitals are also increasing their capacity to deal with the crisis, with dedicated treatment units with a capacity of 15-20 beds.

In addition, about 300 oral rehydration units are being established to treat patients with non-life threatening conditions, said WHO.

Six of Haiti’s 10 departments have been directly affected by cholera since the start of the outbreak on 22 October.

Nick Ireland, who heads a massive health education campaign in the country for Save the Children, said, “Our best hope is to reduce the rate at which cholera spreads, and the best way to do this is to arm people with information, clean water, and soap.”

On 11 November the United Nations launched a cholera plan for Haiti. The plan estimates that the government, UN agencies, and 42 non-governmental organisations will need $164m (£100m; €120m) over the next year to try to stem the outbreak. The largest share is for water, sanitation, and hygiene ($89m), followed by treatment ($43m) and camp coordination and management ($19m), it said.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6569

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