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Health organization hikes cholera outbreak planning to 400,000

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Haiti struggles with cholera epidemic
  • Health officials are planning for half of the cases to occur within three months
  • "We need more of everything,"says Pan American Health Organization's Andrus
  • "We have not yet reached a peak," he says

Washington (CNN) -- The Pan American Health Organization announced Tuesday it is increasing its planning to treat 400,000 cholera cases within the next year, up from a previous estimate of 270,000 over several years, as a result of the outbreak in Haiti.

"We need to plan for up to half of those cases occurring in the next three months because of the explosive nature of this epidemic," the organization's deputy director, Dr. Jon Kim Andrus, told reporters in Washington.

"We need more of everything," he said. "More training for staff in Haiti, more doctors, more nurses, more treatment centers, more medications, more toilets, more clean water."

Since last month, when the outbreak began, the organization known by its acronym of PAHO -- the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO) -- has distributed enough supplies to treat about 80,000 cases, he said.

As of Tuesday, the Haitian government was reporting 60,240 people had been sickened by cholera and 1,415 had died.

iReporter talks violent Haiti protests
Reporter and photographer talk Haiti

Short-term efforts are focusing on the distribution of chlorine tablets and oral rehydration salts, which are key to preventing and treating the disease. "In the long term, we must create the systems and infrastructure to ensure equitable access to these basic services," Andrus said.

So far, cholera cases have been confirmed in eight of the nation's 10 departments and clusters of cases are being investigated in the other two departments, he said.

"We have not yet reached a peak and we don't know when that peak will occur," he said.

PAHO has urged health ministries throughout the Americas to beef up their planning in the event the disease takes hold outside Haiti, he said. That was the case with Peru, where an outbreak in 1991 spread to more than16 countries from Argentina to Canada within two years.

But the job of stemming the outbreak has been hampered by non-medical considerations. In Haiti's North Department, some PAHO staff members and other international staff and medical workers remain confined to their living quarters after civil unrest there this week, Andrus said.

Staffing for governmental and non-governmental organizations battling the outbreak remains a major challenge. "We are encouraging partners to do everything possible to hire and train the Haitian people using cash-for-work programs," he said.

Haiti's public health infrastructure was weak before the outbreak, with 58 percent of the population lacking access to potable water, Andrus said. More than three in four Haitians earn less than $2 a day. Some 1.6 million Haitians are living in "precarious conditions, particularly those in the 1,300 displacement camps," he said.

Only about 10 percent of the $164 million sought by a coalition of about 48 humanitarian organizations working in Haiti, including NGOs, has been received, according to WHO.