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PAHO/WHO anticipates cholera outbreaks, sets up field operations in Haiti towns affected by Hurricane Matthew

With more than 1.3 million Haitians affected by Hurricane Matthew, acute diarrheal diseases including cholera threaten parts of the population, and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) has set up field operations with Haiti’s Ministry of Health in Jeremie and Les Cayes to help Haitians, according to Dr. Jean Luc Poncelet, PAHO/WHO Representative in Haiti.

“Hurricane Matthew has devastated parts of the island. In the Southwest it is estimated that 80 percent of the houses have lost their roofs, and most hospitals suffered major damages. At least 100 facilities have lost their ability to function,” Poncelet said today.

“Before the hurricane, we had serious problems of access to health, water and sanitation, and cases of cholera. So when the water supply is interrupted, cholera will increase. We are seriously concerned about an epidemic of cholera, and that’s why the Ministry of Health with our assistance is taking all measures possible to avoid that happening,” Poncelet said.

To date, multinational teams of experts have been deployed to support the government's efforts against cholera outbreaks. Groups were sent to Jeremie, Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince to support humanitarian operations and restore the capacity of health services and systems. PAHO is working with the Ministry of Health to increase the availability of medicines and medical supplies and cooperating in the organization and planning of the health response to possible outbreaks, Poncelet added.

Experts in emergencies and disasters, health services, epidemiological surveillance, logistics, transport and communication have been deployed from PAHO/WHO’s Haiti office, its Washington headquarters, and other offices.

With scattered outbreaks of cholera confirmed and in anticipation of an increase in the number of cases, PAHO/WHO on Sunday sent out shipments of cholera kits containing oral rehydration solutions, catheters and water chlorination treatments to attend patients with acute diarrhea and cholera.

Donations have already started to pour into Haiti, Poncelet said, and a French cargo jet arrived yesterday with 69 tons of supplies. France’s Ambassador to Haiti, Elisabeth Beton said her government was interested in collaborating with Haiti’s national response, and sent two water purification stations, for emergency situations, six units for basic sanitation and hygiene, 13 tons of medical and first aid supplies, and cholera treatment kits.

Haiti’s Minister of External Relations and Culture Pierrot Delienne thanked the international community for the donations, and the European Union’s ambassador in Haiti said the donation resulted from good coordination between PAHO and national and international officials.

A Dutch ship arrived in Haiti with supplies and experts to rehabilitate hospitals, and shipments of donations from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, among others, have arrived on the island.

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