Health: Haiti: Cholera returns to Haiti at its most delicate moment and stirs up ghosts of the past.

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The detection of 26 cases of cholera in Haiti has stirred fears of a preventable but potentially deadly disease. At a delicate moment in political, social and economic terms, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere is already working against the clock to avoid a new epidemic like the one it experienced between 2010 and 2019.

Archive - Instructions to the population against cholera symptoms posted at a center in Haiti in 2012. - SCOTT EISEN / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO © Provided by News 360 Archive - Instructions to the population against cholera symptoms posted at a center in Haiti in 2012. - SCOTT EISEN / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO

A negligence of the UN 'blue helmets' caused a cholera outbreak in October 2010 that was not extinguished until eight and a half years later, with 820,000 cases and almost 10,000 deaths in between. Since then, the local Ministry of Health and its international partners have been working to ensure that, at least, it never reaches this level again.

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Alarm bells rang again on Sunday, when the Haitian government confirmed two cases of cholera in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Authorities have already begun to track other potential cases and have confirmed more than 20 suspected cases, including at least seven deaths.

The two cases arrived at Médecins Sans Frontières centers in Turgeau, Port-au-Prince, and Drouillard, in the Cité Soleil district of the Haitian capital.

As of Sunday, 14 cholera patients had been received in Turgeau and another 12 in Drouillard. There is also a suspected case at Carrefour Hospital, also with MSF presence, and several possibly related deaths in the suburb of Cité Soleil.

The patients come from Cité Soleil and Grand Martissant, very vulnerable areas with a high population density, no access to health care, very poor sewerage and no access to drinking water, MSF sources point out.

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They are also the "most difficult" areas of Port-au-Prince in terms of humanitarian access due to insecurity and barricades erected by armed groups that make transit difficult in several parts of the city.

MSF has deployed three tents in response at the Turgeau Emergency Center, in Drouillard and in Brooklyn, also in Cité Soleil. The first tent has eleven beds specifically prepared.

AUTHORITY RESPONSE Both the Ministry of Health and the UN have urged the population to contact a doctor if they detect symptoms compatible with a disease which manifests itself especially through watery diarrhea and derives mainly from unsanitary contexts, from the consumption of contaminated water or food.

The UN office in Haiti is "actively" monitoring the evolution of the situation and has urged all citizens to remain "vigilant" and to adopt protocols to prevent the spread of the disease, for example by washing hands, boiling water, protecting food from contact with animals or using latrines.

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It has even proposed a home rehydration formula made from water, sugar and salt, in case the patient does not have access to medical solutions and needs to stop a worsening of the diarrhea and vomiting, potentially fatal if left untreated.

"The UN stands ready to deploy emergency response teams to support affected communities as soon as safe access is ensured and fuel supplies are [unblocked]," stressed UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who expressed grave concern for the health and safety of the population in Haiti and called for immediate and unrestricted access to the entire Haitian territory to facilitate the delivery of fuel for humanitarian purposes.

Fuel deliveries have been blocked at the port since mid-September, affecting both the daily lives of Haitians and the ability of UN workers, other agencies and the international community to respond to the severe crisis in the country.

Guterres also urged the entire political and social spectrum to work together at this time of crisis to ensure that the gains made in the last twelve years in the fight against cholera are not lost or eroded.

WHO has already delivered two tons of medical supplies and equipment to Médecins Sans Frontières to enable a cholera treatment center to be set up in Cité Soleil, a suburb on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The center has a capacity for 50 patients.

LOGISTICAL PROBLEMS In addition to the medical challenges, there are also logistical challenges, as the violence of armed groups that mainly affects the Haitian capital and its surroundings makes it "difficult" to access certain areas, according to the first WHO report following confirmation of the outbreak.

The agency also fears possible problems in transporting samples due to lack of fuel, while denouncing "limited access" to water and sanitation for the population. "These factors would have an impact on the dynamics of cholera resurgence and on the severity of the disease in patients with acute diarrhea," it warns.

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