Haiti's Cholera Death Count Passes 1,000

A woman suffering from cholera symptoms is treated at the St. Nicholas hospital in Saint Marc, Haiti, Nov. 8, 2010. AP Photo

Updated at 12:14 p.m. ET

The Haitian government announced Tuesday that cholera has now killed more than 1,000 people in the earthquake-ravaged country.

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The country's health ministry made the announcement on Tuesday, setting the official death toll at 1,034. The figures are dated Sunday and presented after two days of review.

Aid workers say official figures may understate the epidemic. While the ministry of health says more than 16,700 people have been hospitalized nationwide, Doctors Without Borders reports that its clinics alone have treated more than 12,000.

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Anti-U.N. riots spread to several Haitian cities and towns as protesters, exchanging gunfire with U.N. soldiers, blamed a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers for the cholera outbreak. Protesters continued to barricade some roads on Tuesday.

The protests left at least two people dead. A demonstrator was shot dead by a U.N. peacekeeper during an exchange of gunfire in Quartier Morin, near Haiti's second-largest city of Cap-Haitien, the United Nations mission said. It said it was investigating the shooting but asserted the soldier acted in self-defense.

Haiti Senate President Kelly Bastien told Radio Vision 2000 that a second demonstrator was shot and killed in Cap-Haitien itself. He did not know who shot him.

The 12,000-member force reported that at least six U.N. personnel were wounded in protests at Hinche in the central plateau, while local Radio Metropole reported that at least 12 Haitians were injured in Cap-Haitien.

The protests apparently began in Cap-Haitien early Monday and within hours had paralyzed much of the northern port city. An APTN television cameraman trying to reach the area was repelled by protesters throwing rocks and bottles from a barricade.

As the day went on, other protests broke out in surrounding towns and the central plateau. Local reporters said a police station was burned in Cap-Haitien and rocks thrown at peacekeeping bases. A small protest was also reported in the northwestern city of Gonaives, but U.N. police said it ended peacefully.

The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, dismissed the protests as politically motivated, linking them to the fast-approaching Nov. 28 presidential elections.

"The way events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections. MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country," the mission said in a statement.

Officials said investigations to determine if the protesters' suspicions are correct will have to wait. The U.N.'s World Health Organization said in Geneva on Tuesday that efforts should focus on controlling the disease, not determining where it came from.

WHO spokesman Fadela Chaib told reporters that "at some time we will do further investigation but it's not a priority right now."

The U.N.'s spokeswoman in Geneva, Corinne Momal-Vanian, described the suspicion that Nepalese troops were to blame for the outbreak as "misinformation."

The cholera backlash plays upon some Haitians' long-standing resentment of the 12,000-member U.N. military mission, which has been the dominant security force in Haiti since 2004. It is also rooted both in fear of a disease previously unknown to Haiti and internationally shared suspicion that the U.N. base could have been a source of the infection.

Cholera had never been documented in Haiti before it broke out about three weeks ago.

Suspicions quickly surrounded a Nepalese base located on the Artibonite River system, where the outbreak started. The soldiers arrived there in October following outbreaks in their home country and about a week before Haiti's epidemic was discovered.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the cholera strain now ravaging the country matched a strain specific to South Asia, but said they had not pinpointed its origin or how it arrived in Haiti.

Following an Associated Press investigation, the U.N. acknowledged that there were sanitation problems at the base, but said its soldiers were not responsible for the outbreak.

Transmitted by feces, the disease can be all but prevented if people have access to safe drinking water and regularly wash their hands.

President Rene Preval addressed the nation on Sunday to dispel myths and educate people on good sanitation and hygiene.

But sanitary conditions don't exist in much of Haiti and the disease has spread across the countryside and to nearly all the country's major population centers, including the capital, Port-au-Prince. Doctors Without Borders and other medical aid groups have expressed concern that the outbreak could eventually sicken hundreds of thousands of people.

In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, health officials banned used clothing from being sold in outdoor markets along the shared border as a precautionary measure to stop the disease's spread.
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