Cubans a boon in Haiti cholera outbreak

News from Cuba | Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Cuban medics are proving more useful than citizens of any other country, where Haiti's cholera outbreak is concerned.

So far, more than 2,000 people have died of cholera in Haiti, with nearly 90,000 cases recorded there and a rising death toll.

It has been six weeks since the first outbreak, and the disease shows no sign of halting its progress through all levels of Haitian society.

Prior to the October outbreak, Haiti had not had a cholera epidemic in 100 years.

According to experts from the UN, the actual death toll could be much higher than the 2,000 current deaths on record.

While Cuba has not publicised its attempts to help its neighbour, it has co-operated with the UN in sending its medical staff to hard-to-reach areas.

The Cuban medics get to places where English-speaking medics would have a hard time getting around, such as hard-hit mountain villages, setting up emergency treatment camps.

People in such villages often have no idea how to respond to cholera, and are poor and illiterate.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has called in statements on Cuban government websites for help to rebuild Haiti from its foundations.

Lorenzo Somarriba, coordinator of the Cuban Medical Brigade in Haiti, whose office has photos of former President Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara on the walls, said that his team did not look for publicity, but was more interested in getting their work done.

He said that Cuban doctors were working in the most difficult places in Haiti, concentrating only on areas outside the capital.

Just over 900 medics are working in Haiti under Somarriba, some of them professionals from other countries in the Carribean, Latin America, or Africa.

The Cuban-led team has treated up to 40% of all cholera victims in Haiti, and employs technicians, truck drivers, airplanes, and logistics experts in its efforts.

Nyka Alexander, spokeswoman in Haiti for the World Health Organisation, said that the Cubans were available for service, well-trained, and well-stocked.

Somarriba said that Cubans knew the terrain and knew how to speak Haitian Creole, and that some medics had been in Haiti for the past 12 years, when Hurrican George left many places devastated.

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