WHO to apply for cholera vaccines for Haiti, expects further spread

The World Health Organization is setting up tents to treat cholera in Haiti and will also demand a delivery of oral vaccines against the disease that has unexpectedly returned to a country paralyzed by a gang blockade, a WHO spokesman said.

The disease killed about 10,000 people in a 2010 outbreak blamed on a United Nations peacekeeping force stationed in Haiti. The United Nations apologized for the outbreak in 2016, without taking responsibility. The last case was reported three years ago.

The Caribbean country has reported at least seven deaths so far, and the WHO warned that some early cases may have gone undetected, with more expected to emerge.

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“It is now very important to get help on the ground as soon as possible,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said at a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday. He described a “difficult cocktail” of circumstances surrounding the spread of the disease, with cases emerging in gang-controlled areas where access to testing or treatment is severely hampered.

“With the humanitarian situation and the hygiene situation that it is, and the gang-controlled areas where there is hardly any access to control, to test or even to call for help, we have to expect that the numbers will unfortunately be higher and will to rise.”

Some hospitals are already starting to close due to fuel shortages and lack of access for staff, Lindmeier added.

The WHO and partners are setting up cholera treatment centers in tents and supplying them with drugs and equipment, he said.

It was not immediately clear how the cholera returned to Haiti.

The site of the outbreak, a poor area called Cite Soleil outside the capital, witnessed a bloody territorial war in July that left some residents without access to food and water. Clean water is essential to stop the spread of cholera.

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Controlling the outbreak will depend on ending the gang blockade, the UN Integrated Office of the Deputy Special Representative, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti said in a statement.

“If fuel is not released immediately for humanitarian purposes, the response to this crisis will be limited and the impact of the outbreak will worsen,” it said.

“Access to Cite Soleil, where the first case was reported, has been closed to the UN and international actors for several weeks.”

The Varreux fuel terminal, whose entrance is still blocked by trenches and shipping containers, called on Twitter for a deal to create a humanitarian corridor “to allow supplies to hospitals, water treatment centers and telecoms”.

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