The disease has already killed more than 200 people since the first deaths were announced in early October, with another 9,300 hospitalized, according to the Ministry of Health of Haiti
A cholera-stricken baby receives treatment at a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
A cholera outbreak sweeping through Haiti is claiming a growing number of children amid rising malnutrition, UNICEF announced Wednesday.
The deadly combination means about 40%of cholera cases in the impoverished country of more than 11 million people now involve children, with 9 out of 10 cases reported in areas where people are starving, according to the United Nations agency.
“We have to plan for the worst,”, Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF's Office of Emergency Programs, told The Associated Press on Tuesday during a visit to Haiti.
Cholera has killed more than 200 people since the first deaths were announced in early October, and another 9,300 are hospitalized, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health, but experts believe the number is much higher due to underreporting.
A mother hydrates her cholera-stricken son (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
UNICEF and the Haitian government are seeking at least $28 million to help feed, hydrate and care for 1.4 million people affected by the crisis, and that figure is expected to rise as malnutrition worsens, especially in areas urban areas like the poor neighborhood of Cite Soleil in the Haitian capital. Port-au-Prince, something that hasn't been seen before.
“Cholera and malnutrition are a lethal combination, one leads to the other”, Fontaine said.
On a recent morning at the Gheskio medical clinic in Port-au-Prince, nurses, doctors and social workers cared for malnourished children who were also battling cholera.
p class=”paragraph”>“This is a challenge for us,” said Dr. Karine Sévère, who heads the clinic's cholera department. “When children are malnourished, it takes them longer to recover.”
A patient suffering from cholera symptoms receives treatment at a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
She estimates that cases of malnutrition have increased by at least 40% in recent weeks, and nurses feed children soup in the morning and rice, beans, meat and vegetables in the afternoon to help them gain weight.
It's food that not many parents can afford in a country where around 60% of the population earn less than $2 a day.
Roselord David, 40, says she and her five children had to flee Cite Soleil after warring gangs burned down their home. They temporarily lived in a public park and then moved in with her sister as she continues to struggle to find food for her children.
A social worker who saw his emaciated 5-year-old daughter in the park urged David to take her to the clinic.
Patients with cholera symptoms lie in beds while receiving IVs (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
“They told me you were suffering from malnutrition,” David said quietly, embarrassed to recount his family's problems in the clinic full of patients.
Nearby, a 15-year-old slept, an IV in his thin arm.
Her friend , Island Meus, said she took turns with her mother to take care of him.
“Sometimes he runs out of food,” she confided, adding that she occasionally eats a plate of rice with plantains when her family can afford it.
The Haitian government requested recently cholera vaccines, but there is a global shortage of them and 31 countries are reporting outbreaks, so it is not clear if and when they will arrive. However, Fontaine said that she would give priority to Haiti.
A woman uses a towel to swatt away flies from her cholera-stricken daughter, at a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
The country's first brush with cholera occurred in 2010 after UN peacekeepers from Nepal introduced the bacteria into the country's largest river via sewage. Nearly 10,000 people have died and more than 850,000 have become ill.
This time, the situation is more complicated, said Boby Sanders, director of Food for the Hungry in Haiti . Nearly half of the cholera sufferers are now under 15 and struggling to survive as the malnutrition crisis deepens, he said in a telephone interview.
The situation is also getting worse because gang violence has skyrocketed, preventing aid groups from reaching those who need it most.
“It's really complex,” he said. “We have to act now.”
(with information from AP)