Cholera overwhelms Haiti as cases and deaths rise amid crisis
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The sun shone on Stanley Joliva as medical staff at an outdoor clinic hovered around him, pumping air into his lungs and performing chest compressions until when he died.
Nearby, her mother watched.
“Only God knows my pain,” Viliene Enfant said.
Less than an hour later, her 22-year-old son’s body lay on the ground wrapped in a white plastic bag with the date of his death scrawled on it. He joined dozens of other Haitians who died of cholera during a fast-spreading epidemic that is draining the resources of local nonprofits and hospitals in a country where fuel, water and other supplies for basis are becoming scarce day by day.
Sweat pooled on the foreheads of staff at a Doctors Without Borders treatment center in the capital of Port-au-Prince where around 100 patients arrive each day and at least 20 have died. Families continued to rush this week with loved ones, 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 stretched out on stretchers as IV lines ascended to bags of rehydrating fluids that glistened in the sun. So far this month, Médecins Sans Frontières has treated some 1,800 patients in its four centers in Port-au-Prince.
Across Haiti, many patients are dying because they say they can’t get to the hospital in time, according to health officials. A spike in gang violence has made it dangerous for people to leave their communities and the lack of fuel has shut down public transport, petrol stations and other key businesses, including water supply companies.
Child sat next to her son’s body as she recalled how Joliva had told her he was feeling sick earlier this week. She had previously warned him and his two other sons not to bathe or wash his clothes in the sewage-contaminated waters that flowed through a nearby ravine in their neighborhood – the only source of water for hundreds of people in this region.
Child insisted that his sons buy water to wash clothes and add chlorine if they had to drink it. As Joliva grew increasingly ill, Child tried to care for him on her own.
« I told him, ‘Honey, you have to drink the tea,' » she recalled. “He repeated, ‘I feel weak.’ He also said, ‘I am not able to get up.’ »
Cholera is a bacterium that sickens people who swallow contaminated food or water, and can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, in some cases leading to death.
The first major contact with cholera in Haiti occurred more than a decade ago when UN peacekeepers introduced the bacteria to the country’s largest river via sewage runoff at their base. . Nearly 10,000 people died and thousands more fell ill.
Cases eventually declined to the point where the World Health Organization was to declare Haiti free of cholera this 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 authorities believe the numbers are much higher, especially in the crowded and unsanitary slums and government shelters where thousands of Haitians live.
The situation is compounded by the lack of fuel and water 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 companies, have closed, forcing increasing numbers of people to rely on untreated water.
Shela Jeune, a 21-year-old hot dog seller whose 2-year-old son has cholera, said she was buying small bags of water for her family but did not know if she was being treated. She transported him to the hospital where he remains on an intravenous drip.
« Everything I give him to eat, he vomits it up, » she said.
Young was among dozens of mothers seeking treatment for their children on a recent morning.
Lauriol Chantal, 43, told 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 center, her son, Alexandro François, told her he was hot.
“He said to me… ‘Mom, can you take me outside to wash myself or pour water on my head?’ « , did she say.
She did, but suddenly he collapsed in her arms. Staff ran to help.
Children under the age of 14 account for half of cholera cases in Haiti, according to UNICEF, with officials warning that rising cases of severe malnutrition are also making children more vulnerable to the disease.
Poverty in Haiti has also made the situation worse.
« When you are not able to get clean water from the tap in your home, when you don’t have soap or water purification tablets, and you don’t have access to health services , you may not survive cholera or other waterborne diseases, » said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti.
Perpety Juste, a 62-year-old grandmother, said one of her three grandchildren fell ill this week as she worried about how their situation might have led to her illness.
« We went a lot of 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 worked as a cleaner until the owners fled Haiti.
The growing demand for help is pressing Doctors Without Borders and others as they struggle to treat patients with limited fuel.
« It’s a nightmare for the population, and also for us, » said Jean-Marc Biquet, project coordinator at the organization. « We still have two weeks of fuel. »
Life is paralyzed for many Haitians, including Child, as she mourns the death of her son. She wants to bury him in her southern coastal hometown of Les Cayes, but cannot afford the 55,000 gourdes ($430) it would cost to transport his body.
Child then fell silent and looked away as she continued 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.
Evens Sanon, Associated Press