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Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 26 October 2010 13:12 UK
Charities spreading the hygiene message in Haiti
Cholera sufferers in Haiti
Women wait for their children to be treated for cholera on 23 October 2010

As the number of reported cases of cholera in Haiti drops, aid agencies are warning against complacency.

Cambridge-based charities SOS Children's Villages and CBM have both stepped up their presence in Haiti since the earthquake in January 2010.

CBM's Laura Townsend said: "It's early days and the real fear is that cholera could make its way to the capital.

"We are reinforcing the message that good hygiene will help to prevent the spread of cholera to the tent camps."

On 26 October 2010, Haiti's health ministry reported that 259 people were known to have died from the disease.

Three hundred new infections had been recorded, taking the total to 3,342.

Tent camps

The source of the country's cholera epidemic is believed to be the Artibonite river which courses through many villages to the north of the capital.

Cholera sufferers in Haiti
Families receive treatment at St Nicolas Hospital in St Marc

Most of the cases have been in this region, but just 100km south, 1.5 million people are still living in squalid tent camps in Port-au-Prince, 10 months after the earthquake hit the country.

SOS Children's Villages runs two homes for children, but luckily, these have been unaffected by the outbreak.

"The children in our villages are safe because they have clean water, and that's the key," explained Elizabeth Tofaris from the charity. "But for those in the tent cities it's much more difficult."

She said that with 1.5 million people living in the camps, something like this was inevitable.

"Cholera hasn't been present in the country for many, many years so it's incredibly sad, but unsurprising, given the unsanitary conditions that people are living in," she said.

Like other charities, SOS has been working with the government and with NGOs to provide clean water to people in the tent cities.

'Too early'

Laura Townsend is the overseas programmes officer for the disability charity, CBM, which works with partner organisations in Haiti.

She voiced concern about reports suggesting the disease was under control, and said she believed it was too early to draw that conclusion.

"The camps are inadequate and the sanitation is very poor.

"They're trying to construct toilets but there's still no water supply so progress is slow and difficult. If cholera gets to these camps, it's likely to spread very quickly," she said.

The charity's emergency co-ordinator, Brian Hatchel, has just returned to Haiti. He said that although progress was being made to rebuild damaged areas of Port-au-Prince, people talked about nothing but the fear of cholera reaching their city.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, where the outbreak originated, the government has put tight prevention mechanisms in place.

Leaflets containing information about hygiene and prevention of disease are distributed at hospitals and delivered to homes.

As people stand in line waiting for medical treatment, songs relating the hygiene message are played from loudspeakers.

'Good hygiene'

"Some of CBM's partner organisations work very close to the affected areas in the north of Haiti," said Laura Townsend.

"They have stepped up procedures, making sure everyone's alerted to what cholera is, and how it can be prevented.

"They are working hard to reinforce the government's campaign," she continued.

"We also have 10 health centres in Port-au-Prince itself. While people are waiting around for treatment, our staff are there talking to them and reinforcing the message that good hygiene will help to prevent the spread of cholera."

The United Nations' humanitarian co-ordinator in Haiti is Nigel Fisher. He said: "Right now it's stabilised in Artibonite, in the areas where the first infections were, but that doesn't mean it's not going to spread.

"We must be on alert and the message must be, don't get too comfortable yet."




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