Eyewitness: Haiti cholera

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Aid agencies in Haiti are stepping up their efforts to contain the spread of cholera after the first cases were confirmed in the capital, Port-au-Prince. More than 250 people have already died in the north of the country.

Here, aid workers, a visiting film-maker and a local resident describe the situation.

Roseann Dennery, Samaritan's Purse, Cabaret district, 25 October

Photo: Roseann Dennery Roseann and her colleagues are worried cholera is spreading to the south

We've seen reports that the situation is stabilising, but from the information we've gathered, it's difficult to confirm that.

We heard that cases are now starting to appear in the region of Arcahaie, an alarming sign that the infection is making its way south. We gathered around the latest map of the outbreak with heavy hearts.

The most important thing right now is prevention. We are going to markets, to heavily populated areas trying to spread the message. Many of the people we spoke to hadn't even heard of the disease. We explain to them what the symptoms are and how they can make their own hydration solution with sugar, salt and water.

We mobilised a team of nurses to do door-to-door hygiene training, hand out soap, and conduct prevention education. They will also be assessing the amount of sick individuals in four key villages along the river. Today's findings will help structure our response in the coming days in this area. We hope desperately for a diversion to the spreading.

Yesterday our clinic was set up quickly and word got out. People began showing up - mothers carrying their young, husbands walking alongside frail wives. People were vomiting and collapsing. There were weak bodies draped over cots. Our doctors and nurses started several IVs [intravenous drip feeds] in the first 20 minutes.

We picked up a woman on the way who was swaddling her small child, lifelessly draped over her arms. We started dehydration treatment for the child and stayed by their side. We believe he will survive.

Yesterday we set up a water filtration system in the village of Boudette Petit Place and for the first time in days, we heard laughter. For a brief moment, it felt like everything was going to be okay.

Teri Johnson, US film maker, Port-au-Prince, 24 October

Teri Johnson hands out soap Teri Johnson hands out soap

In Port-au-Prince, there are schools that are closing their doors for a few days as they ramp up their sanitary measures.

I'm staying on a compound run by missionaries and they are not allowing their orphans to go to their private schools for at least three days.

I went into a tent village in Petionville where 10,000 people live. Right outside of it is food waste and trash that enormous hogs rummage through.

I have been helping the charity Clean the World distribute soap around the camps. Within inches of where the tents are there is a mix of rubble, dust and dirt, and a combination of food scrap compost, animal faeces, clothes and hogs.

There are no real places to dispose of garbage and waste, and much of it collects on the exterior of the camps and in what used to be drains.

David Darg, Operation Blessing, Saint-Marc, 24 October

Photo: Tony Cece, Operation Blessing International David Darg: "We have been distributing the Lifesaver Jerrycan that filters out viruses and bacteria"

Today we were met with the news that they had confirmed cases of Cholera in Port-au-Prince. We are very concerned, and had already bolstered our water purification activities in the city.

We have been distributing the Lifesaver Jerrycan that can filter out all viruses and bacteria making it safe to drink. In one spot, we got held up behind a truck that was stuck in deep mud.

Our team jumped out and began to help dig when a pickup truck pulled up carrying a man seriously ill with cholera. We eventually managed to free the truck but it was too late: the elderly man had died.

We have a chlorine generator at our headquarters which produces liquid chlorine and that has been running around the clock to produce chlorine that is added to cisterns throughout the city.

News of the cholera epidemic has spread like wildfire in the camps and the camp members seem to be well informed that it is essential they only drink purified water and wash their hands regularly.

Tomorrow our team will continue to reach deeper into the flood zone near Saint-Marc and distribute the Lifesaver filters in the hope of preventing any more deaths from this horrific outbreak.

Carel Pedre, Port-au-Prince resident, 23 October

I spent twenty minutes at St Nicholas hospital in Saint-Marc and I saw two people die in front of me.

I saw over 500 people waiting to be treated. People were being treated on the floor. They were lying on boards, towels or just the ground. Babies were too ill to move and they were just lying there. The cholera is affecting everyone - the young, the old, men and women. I saw 20 dead bodies when I was at the hospital.

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Babies were too ill to move and they were just lying there”

End Quote Carel Padre

I went to St Nicholas to see for myself what the conditions are like. I had meant to take pictures but I just couldn't do it. The suffering was too much and I put my camera away.

The hospitals in Port-au-Prince seem more prepared now for cholera to hit the area but the situation is far from under control. Everybody is worried about the disease reaching this dense city where there is a lack of sanitation and nowhere clean to cook or sleep.

This is in my country. It is disgusting the way the people are being treated. I feel ashamed.

David Darg, Operation Blessing, Saint-Marc, 22 October

We received a call from our health partners saying that they had a number of cases of suspected cholera. It hasn't still been confirmed if it is.

We were asked to mobilise water purification systems from the area as they suspect people are contracting the disease from the river - which is the sole source of water for some of the communities. So we went to Saint-Marc and started our visit at the hospital.

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The roads were lined with villagers trying to get some water, as word had spread that it was unsafe to drink the river water”

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The scene was horrific. People were cramped at the courtyard and, since most of the victims suffered diarrhoea, they were defecating there. It was a horrible scene, people were lying there on their own.

Pick-up trucks would arrive every couple of minutes with more patients in stretchers. The medics started plotting a map of where these people were coming from so that they could determine the hot spots of concentration of the disease.

We went to the places where most patients were coming from. It is a very remote area with narrow roads. The roads were lined with villagers trying to get some water, as word had spread that it was unsafe to drink the river water.

We started using our own chlorination system - which can purify 10,000 gallons a day, and were pumping water out of the river and purifying it. We have been pumping non-stop all day.

On our way back to Port-au-Prince we stopped at the hospital again and found it was the same scene as in the morning. Vehicles are still dropping ill people there.

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