Jerusalem Post: Israeli clinic in Haiti made cholera treatment facility

By GIL SHEFLER 
11/23/2010

Over the past month about 1,200 Haitians have died in an outbreak of cholera while thousands more have sought treatment in hospitals.

Almost a year since an earthquake struck Haiti, killing at least 200,000 people and reducing much of its capital of Port-au-Prince to rubble, authorities in the impoverished Caribbean nation are now struggling to contain a new disaster from spreading.

Over the past month about 1,200 Haitians have died in an outbreak of cholera while thousands more have sought treatment in hospitals.

International aid organizations including Israeli and Jewish groups have rushed into action trying to help the UN bring the situation under control.

On Monday the UN declared IsraAID’s clinic in Leogane, a town located about 30 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, a cholera treatment facility.

Since the announcement, the facility’s Israeli, Canadian and local staff have been preparing for the expected influx of patients by adding dozens of beds and stocking up on medical supplies.

“There’s a large auditorium behind our clinic which we’ve cleaned filled with beds,” Shachar Zahavi, the head of IsraAID, said on Monday. “The largest medical center in the area is a Doctors Without Borders facility nearby, but UN officials who visited our facility were impressed with our work and designated us to be the area’s second treatment center.”

Since it opened last September, the IsraAid-Tevel center, which is fully funded by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, has treated hundreds of patients for various ailments.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on Monday said its widespread aid program was going ahead as usual despite the instability brought about by the epidemic.

“We’re doing a number of projects with the nine clinics working with local medical staff which is very important,” Judy Amit, JDC’s global director of international development, said. “We’re shipping in supplies, IV bags, saline solutions, to rehydrate people and tents. In addition we’re sending antibiotics together with the [Israeli] Foreign Ministry.”

Last week Haitians stormed a UN base just outside the capital held by Nepalese troops, which they blamed for spreading cholera around the country, which hasn’t had an outbreak of the disease in decades.

“The riots were isolated,” Amit, who just returned from Haiti, said. “During the five days I was there it’s been described as tires burning in the streets and chaos. But there’s no sense that the city is being ravaged.

A lot of the local anger is to do with education.

People do not understand the connection between sewage and clean water sources. Also the pile up of garbage is terrible.”

Despite the riots and threat that the epidemic will spread further, Haitians will go to the ballots this Sunday to vote in a new government.

“I don’t know [if the elections will go ahead smoothly,” Amit said. “I’m there to provide humanitarian aid. The cholera outbreak was expected and I hope a strong government comes into a power so that they can push things forward.”

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