Cholera cases, deaths in Haiti amid fuel and water crisis

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – The sun shone down on Stanley Joliva as medical staff at an outdoor clinic hovered around him, pumping air into his lungs and giving him chest compressions until he died.

Nearby, his mother watched.

“Only God knows my pain,” said Viliene Enfant.

Less than an hour later, the body of her 22-year-old son lay on the ground, wrapped in a white plastic bag with his date of death scrawled on it. He joined dozens of other Haitians who have died during a fast-spreading cholera outbreak that’s draining the resources of nonprofits and local hospitals in a country where fuel, water and other basic supplies are growing scarce by the day.

Sweat stood out for staff at a MSF treatment center in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where about 100 patients arrive every day and at least 20 have died. Families rushed in with loved ones this week, sometimes dragging their limp bodies into the crowded outdoor clinic, where the smell of trash filled the air.

Dozens of patients sat on white buckets or lay on stretchers while IV lines led to bags of rehydrating fluids that glistened in the sun. So far this month, MSF has treated around 1,800 patients at its four centers in Port-au-Prince.

Across Haiti, many patients are dying because they say they can’t reach a hospital in time, health officials say. A rise in gang violence has made it unsafe for people to leave their communities, and fuel shortages have paralyzed public transport, gas stations and other essential businesses, including water utilities.

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Enfant sat next to her son’s body as she recalled how Joliva told her he was feeling ill earlier this week. She had already warned him and her two other sons not to bathe or wash clothes in the sewage-contaminated water that flowed through a nearby ravine in their neighborhood—the only source of water for hundreds in the area.

Enfant insisted her sons buy water to wash clothes and add chlorine if they wanted to drink it. When Joliva got sicker, Enfant tried to take care of him on his own.

“I told him, ‘Honey, you have to drink the tea,'” she recalled. “He said again, ‘I feel weak.’ He also said, ‘I can’t get up.’”

Cholera is a bacterium that sickens people who swallow contaminated food or water, and it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, which in some cases can be fatal.

Haiti’s first major outbreak of cholera occurred more than a decade ago, when UN peacekeepers introduced the bacterium into the country’s main river through sewage at their base. Nearly 10,000 people died and thousands more became ill.

Cases eventually declined to the point where it was expected that the World Health Organization would declare Haiti cholera-free that year.

But on October 2, Haitian officials announced that cholera had returned.

At least 40 deaths and 1,700 suspected cases have been reported, but officials believe the numbers are much higher, particularly in overcrowded and unsanitary slums and government shelters where thousands of Haitians live.

Patients are treated for cholera at the UNICEF-supported Gheskio Center Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 14, 2022. Photo by Ricardo Arduengo/REUTERS

Compounding the situation are fuel and water shortages, which began to ease last month when one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs surrounded a key fuel terminal and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Gas stations and businesses, including water utilities, have closed, forcing more and more people to rely on untreated water.

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Shela Jeune, a 21-year-old hot dog vendor whose 2-year-old son has cholera, said she buys small bags of water for her family but doesn’t know if it’s treated. She carried him to the hospital, where he is still receiving IV fluids.

“Anything I feed him, he just throws up,” she said.

Jeune was among dozens of mothers seeking treatment for their children on a recent morning.

Lauriol Chantal, 43, shared a similar story. Her 15-year-old son vomited as soon as he finished eating, prompting her to rush him to the treatment center.

While she was at the centre, her son Alexandro François told her he was hot.

“He said to me … ‘Mom, can you take me outside to wash me or pour water over my head?'” she said.

She obeyed, but suddenly he collapsed in her arms. The staff rushed over to help.

Children under the age of 14 account for half of Haiti’s cholera cases, according to UNICEF, with officials warning that rising cases of severe malnutrition are also making children more vulnerable to disease.

Haiti’s poverty has also made the situation worse.

“If you can’t get clean drinking water from the tap in your own home, if you don’t have soap or water purification tablets, and if you don’t have access to health services, you may not survive cholera or other waterborne diseases,” said Bruno Maes, Haiti’s UNICEF officer. representative.

Perpety Juste, a 62-year-old grandmother, said one of her three grandchildren fell ill this week as she worried about how her situation might have led to her illness.

“We’ve gone many days without food, I can’t lie,” she said. “Nobody in my house has a job.”

Juste, who lives with her husband, five children and three grandchildren, said she used to work as a house cleaner until the homeowners fled Haiti.

The increasing demand for help is putting pressure on Doctors Without Borders and others as they scramble to serve patients with limited fuel.

“It’s a nightmare for the population and also for us,” said Jean-Marc Biquet, the organization’s project coordinator. “We have two weeks of fuel left.”

The lives of many Haitians, including Enfant, are paralyzed as she mourns the death of her son. She wants to bury him in her hometown of Les Cayes on the south coast, but can’t afford the 55,000 gourdes ($430) it would cost to transport his body.

Enfant then fell silent and gazed off into the distance while continuing to sit next to her son’s body – too stunned, she said, to get up.

___

Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.

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