November 24, 2010

Haiti Desperately Needs More Doctors and Nurses

According to Reuters today the United Nations' top humanitarian official thinks that:

Haiti needs a surge of foreign nurses and doctors to stem deaths from a raging cholera epidemic that an international aid operation is struggling to control. Around 1,000 trained nurses and at least 100 more doctors were urgently needed to control the epidemic.

The official statistics are now four days old, but according to those 1415 people have now died from cholera in Haiti, 98 of them under 5 years of age.

Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, is visiting Port-au-Prince and said that:

It's not just money, it's crucially people, in terms of getting more doctors, nurses, more people who can help with the awareness-raising and getting information out there. We have to control the outbreak and we have to bring down the percentage of people who are dying, and we have to do that as a matter of urgency. I'm being told it hasn't reached its peak yet, that it will get worse before it gets better.

According to U.N. officials the international response to an appeal by the world body for $164 million to fund a scaled-up cholera response has been insufficient. Ms. Amos said her task was to make sure the international community did not forget about Haiti.

Let's remember: we have fed 1.3 million people, we have given them access to health care, we have given them access to education. Until the cholera outbreak, we hadn't had a major outbreak of disease. All this in a country devastated by an earthquake where you lost significant numbers of people who would have been part of working on the solution.

Despite the increasingly rapid spread of cholera throughout Haiti, it seems the elections scheduled for November 28th will still go ahead as planned. Four candidates have called for the elections to be postponed, but according to Lut Fabert, the head of the EU's diplomatic mission in Haiti:

At the moment, the EU sees no obstacle blocking these elections from happening. The most important thing is that the process advances according to the rules and that there is a good participation of the population. To not have elections now could jeopardize political stability in Haiti.

The European Union is providing a team of seven European electoral experts plus 5 million euros to finance the organization of the elections. However apparently the EU team will not be able to act as formal observers of the Haitian Election because they are unable to cover the entire country.

There are 19 candidates in the presidential contest, but no clear favourite. The vote might therefore go to a second round in January.  I wonder what the cholera death toll in Haiti will be by then, especially if the dollars, doctors and nurses that the United Nations is requesting do not arrive safely in Haiti in the very near future?

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