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Children account for 40 percent of cholera cases in Haiti: UNICEF

UN agency says Haitian children face ‘triple threat’ of malnutrition, cholera and armed violence in the crisis-hit country.

About two in five cases of cholera are among children in Haiti, the United Nations Children’s Organization (UNICEF) said, as the Caribbean nation grapples with a deadly outbreak exacerbated by widespread violence and instability.

UNICEF said on Wednesday that about 40 percent of confirmed cholera cases were in children, while nine in 10 were reported in parts of the country also hardest hit by malnutrition and hunger.

“In Haiti, there is currently a triple threat to the lives of children: malnutrition, cholera and armed violence. And sometimes all three together,” said Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF’s Emergency Programs Office, after a four-day visit to Haiti.

“I was shocked to see that many children were at risk of dying in the cholera treatment centres. In just a few hours, acute watery diarrhea and vomiting dry up and weaken so much that they can die without timely and adequate treatment. Cholera and malnutrition are a deadly combination, one leading to the other,” Fontaine said in a statement.

Last month, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP). said nearly half of Haitian’s population – a record 4.7 million people – was suffering from “acute hunger”.

Patients are treated for cholera at Gheskio Center Hospital supported by UNICEF in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 14, 2022 [Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters]

Haiti’s response to the hunger and cholera crisis has been complicated by increased gang violence, which skyrocketed in the wake of President Jovenel Moise’s assassination in Port-au-Prince last year.

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A week-long gang blockade on a petrol terminal in the capital that began in September led to water and electricity shortages, crippled Haitian’s health care network and led experts to warn that the country was facing a “cholera time bomb”.

Caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacteria, the disease can cause severe diarrhea as well as vomiting, thirst and other symptoms. It also spreads quickly in areas without adequate sewage treatment or clean drinking water.

While Haitian authorities regained control of the blocked Varreux tank terminal this month — allowing gas stations to reopen — a spokesman for Haiti’s health ministry warned that this could lead to more cholera cases as people could move again.

Haiti had reported more than 11,600 suspected cases of cholera and 949 confirmed infections on Monday since the outbreak began in early October, according to the latest figures (pdf

) of the Haitian public health department. At least 202 people have died.

Haiti had last reported a case of cholera more than three years ago, after a 2010 outbreak linked to United Nations peacekeepers left about 10,000 deaths and more than 820,000 infections.

That outbreak was linked to a sewer leak from a UN peacekeeping base, prompting condemnation and sowing public mistrust of the international body throughout Haiti. The UN apologized in 2016 for its role in the epidemic.

Jacky

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