Hurricane Matthew: Fears of Haiti cholera outbreak in wake of storm

Women and children wash clothes in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane. PHOTO: CNN

HAITIANS in the areas worst hit by Hurricane Matthew are desperately awaiting assistance six days after the storm, as concerns grow about potential cholera outbreaks.
Vince DeGennaro, a Port-au-Prince-based doctor who’s the medical director for the country’s only medical emergency helicopter program, has been flying medical relief flights into towns along Haiti’s devastated southwest coast in the aftermath of the storm.
“These towns on the southwestern coast, it’s near total destruction. Just about every building was knocked down, even concrete ones,” he said. “It’s quite frightening to see from the air.”
On Sunday, he flew into the town of Roche-a-Bateau, where he said 90 per cent of the buildings had been destroyed by the storm, including the concrete school and church buildings, leaving the residents with no shelter.
“People are just sleeping outside and that leads to all sorts of problems with disease,” he told CNN.
In those conditions, he said, the threat of a cholera outbreak was a “huge concern.”
The disease, which is spread through water or food contaminated Vibrio cholerae bacteria, can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, which leads to extreme dehydration. It can swiftly result in outbreaks, and patients who are not treated quickly can die within hours.
Cholera cases have been reported in Randel, in southwestern Haiti, UNICEF reported in a situation update Monday, while DeGennaro said there had been dozens of cholera deaths in the southwestern town of Port-a-Piment.
“For cholera, every one person who has it tends to infect two or three people, so it’s frightening,” he said.
A cholera epidemic killed at least 10,000 people in Haiti when it was accidentally introduced by UN peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake.
Matthew wreaked havoc as it made landfall in Haiti on Tuesday, killing hundreds, displacing thousands, destroying homes and knocking out electricity, water supply and communications in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
While international aid workers on the ground say this is the worst disaster to hit Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, it is still unclear how many people may have been killed by the Category 4 storm.
Haiti’s official death toll has risen to 372, according to the country’s Civil Protection Agency. However, given the strict verification process for victims, the actual numbers are likely much higher. A person is only counted as dead when their identities have been verified by the National Identification Office.
The hardest hit of Haiti’s 10 regional departments, Grand-Anse, has reported even more dead than the official national toll. UNICEF said Monday that 475 people had been killed in Grand-Anse, citing local emergency operations authorities who have been tallying the dead from different cities.
DeGennaro said the mayor of Roche-a-Bateau told him that 90 people had been killed in the town alone. DeGennaro said he expected the final death toll to number in the thousands.