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HIV-positive people especially vulnerable to cholera

People in many Haitian communities must cross the Artibonite River to get to a health centre. November 2010 Allyn Gaestel/IRIN
Crossing the Artibonite River to get to health facilities
As the death toll from the cholera epidemic sweeping through Haiti surpasses 1,000, with more than 19,000 confirmed cases, health officials say people living with HIV are especially vulnerable.

Only about 25 percent of people infected with cholera develop symptoms - mainly watery diarrhoea and vomiting - but people already weakened by illness, malnutrition or pregnancy are particularly at risk.

"[People living with HIV] are very much at risk because they already have a weakened immune system," explained Hanz Legagneur, director of the Ministry of Public Health in the country's West Department.

Cholera can be easily treated with oral rehydration salts that replenish the body's water and electrolytes, but can be deadly for people who fall ill quickly and lose too much water before obtaining assistance.

People living with HIV are often too poor to pay for transport to health facilities, which can prove deadly when time is short.

"Anyone can die within four hours without treatment or oral rehydration salts; [for] someone infected with HIV it will be even less - it can be two or three hours," said Reginald Dupont of SeroVIE, an NGO for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Haitians living with HIV.

Haiti - with an HIV prevalence of 2.2 percent - has approximately 120,000 HIV-positive people. Like much of the population, many are living in tents following January's earthquake, with little access to potable water or clean toilets.

Health workers have been overwhelmed by the cholera epidemic and have not yet released numbers of HIV-positive people who have contracted the water-borne disease. But according to Dupont, people infected with HIV often lack adequate access to healthcare and due to stigma, may not receive appropriate medical attention.

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The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has distributed nearly 7,000 hygiene-cholera kits since 1 November to pregnant women and people living with HIV. The kits contain soap, a toothbrush and a bucket, as well as chlorine to prevent infection.

National and international organizations are also working to raise awareness about cholera prevention measures. According to Marie Jose Salomon, the HIV focal point for the UNFPA in Haiti, radio spots explaining the risks of cholera to people with HIV are set to be released soon.

Although cholera treatment centres have been set up nationwide, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has estimated that only 10 percent of the money, supplies and skills needed to adequately address the epidemic have so far been made available.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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