PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – A cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 600 people in Haiti has gained a foothold in earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince and is expected to spread widely and quickly in the sprawling city of 3 million people, health authorities said yesterday.
The three-week-old epidemic, which had mostly hit Haiti’s rural central regions so far, now menaced crowded slum areas of the capital, as well as tent and tarpaulin camps there housing more than 1.3 million survivors of the Jan. 12 quake. “The disease has reached the metropolitan area,” Gabriel Thimote, the director general of Haiti’s health department, told reporters in Port-au-Prince.
The spreading epidemic, which experts predict will be worsened by flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas earlier this month, has piled another humanitarian emergency on the Western Hemisphere’s poorest state as it struggles to recover from the devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people.
Presidential and legislative elections scheduled for Nov. 28 in the Caribbean nation are set to go ahead.
Thimote said 115 cases and one death had been recorded at a hospital in the city’s biggest slum, Cite Soleil, a labyrinth of brick, wood and tin-roof shanties bisected by rubbish-choked canals draining into the sea.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Deputy Director Jon Andrus said that the Haitian capital, which even before it was wrecked in the January earthquake had suffered from very poor sanitary conditions, was “ripe” for a rapid spread of the diarrheal disease, which is transmitted by contaminated water.