SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Ten months after the first case appeared in Haiti, cholera has killed more than 6,000 in the Caribbean nation and neighboring Dominican Republic, according to the countries’ health ministries.
As of the end of July, 5,968 Haitians had died from the disease, which had affected a total of 419,511 in the country.
In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, 92 had died and more than 14,000 had been hospitalized as of the end of July.
The spread of the water-borne disease had slowed significantly before the summer rainy season. However, recent rains and resulting flooding provided perfect conditions for the disease to spread.
“Unfortunately, any time you have rain and flooding, a spike in cholera is likely,” said Julie Sell, spokeswoman for the Red Cross. Sell said that aid workers moved to mitigate the effects of rain and flooding in preparation for the storms.
Although the disease continues to spread, fewer deaths are now being reported.
“Despite a resurgence of cholera cases due to abundant rains, mortality rates have been declining steadily in all departments” of Haiti, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) said.
Efforts to control the disease’s spread have been bolstered by a relatively mild 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. Thus far, the season has produced only seven named storms, the last of which, Tropical Storm Gert, was spinning in the Atlantic Ocean near the island of Bermuda on Aug. 16.
In Haiti, the season has produced several near misses. The most recent was early August when Tropical Storm Emily soaked Haiti, damaging homes and at least one cholera treatment facility.
In preparation for Emily, health workers doubled their efforts to stem the spread of the disease, particularly in Haiti, where more than 600,000 earthquake survivors still live in squalid conditions in tent camps after losing their homes during the earthquake in January 2010.
Yet, the storm largely spared Haiti.
The aid community’s ability to respond to a storm-related cholera outbreak will likely be challenged again before the hurricane season concludes at the end of November.
As of August 16, there was a large tropical wave brewing southeast of Hispaniola, producing rainfall across the island. It was moving westward with a 20% chance of strengthening to a tropical cyclone, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
Even after the hurricane season, the long-term threat of cholera will remain a challenge for health organizations in Haiti. Health officials have said that the disease could stay active in the country for decades.
Last November, the United Nations launched an appeal to raise US$175 million to deal with the long-term effects of cholera. As of the end of June, 53% of that money had been raised, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.