Haiti cholera epidemic reported spreading fast

The number of reported cases of cholera in Haiti is now approaching 50,000, but health experts have cautioned that the figure could be higher because data on the epidemic has not been received from some rural communities, a United Nations relief official said Tuesday.

The official, Nigel Fisher, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Haiti, said that epidemiologists in the Pan-American Health Organization, the regional arm of the World Health Organization, estimate that the number of cases could be as high as 70,000.

The death toll, as of Monday, stood at 1,200, but the experts have said that the disease might have claimed as many as 2,000 people, with some fatalities in remote areas going unreported.

Speaking via a video link from the capital, Port-au-Prince, Fisher told a news conference in New York that Pan-American Health epidemiologists have also revised their projections of the spread of the disease and now anticipate that cases could rise to 200,000 over the next three months. The experts had earlier estimated that the number of cases could rise to that figure in six months.

“This epidemic is moving faster,” Fisher said.

Meanwhile, general elections will proceed Sunday as planned, despite the cholera outbreak and the recent street protests in the country, said Edmond Mulet, the head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

“In spite of all that, the electoral process continues unabated – the government and the vast majority of the candidates are determined that these elections be held as planned and as the constitution states on 28 November,” Mulet said.

Fisher said that although the government of Haiti and its humanitarian partners are carrying out significant anti-cholera activities with awareness campaigns, the setting up of treatment centers and making clean water and sanitation facilities available, the effort needed to be strengthened.

“Although there has been a significant mobilization of resources, both national and international, we need to significantly ratchet up the response,” said Fisher. He called for more doctors and nurses, especially from neighboring countries, to be deployed to Haiti to help combat cholera, which he said is projected to remain a problem in the Caribbean country for at least one year.

On the elections, Mulet said that an estimated 4.5 million voters will cast their ballots Sunday to elect the president and senators and members of parliaments in constituencies where elections are due.

There are 19 presidential candidates and 96 senatorial contestants running for 11 seats, while 816 candidates are competing for 99 seats in parliament. Some 66 political parties are taking part in the elections.

Some 14 million ballots have already been printed and distributed, and the training of poll officials is due to conclude in the next two days, Mulet said. All voting materials have been transported to U.N. regional offices, he added.

The U.N. police unit has assisted the Haitian National Police assess security risks in all voting areas, he said, and both forces have developed a comprehensive security plan.

Voters will cast their ballots in more than 11,000 polling stations located in some 1,500 voting centers.

Preliminary results will be announced Dec. 7, with the next two days set aside for candidates to launch complaints, which will be investigated and candidates given time to appeal between Dec. 11 and 19. The declaration of the final results will be made Dec. 20, Mulet said.

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