PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HPD) — The sun beat down on Stanley Joliva as medical staff at an open-air clinic in Haiti swarmed around him, pumping air into his lungs and giving him chest compressions until he passed away.
Nearby, her mother watched the scene.
“Only God knows my pain,” said Viliene Enfant.
Less than an hour later, the body of her 22-year-old son lay on the floor wrapped in a white plastic bag with the date of his death scrawled on it. He joined the dozens of Haitians who have died of cholera amid a rapidly spreading outbreak that is straining the resources of non-governmental organizations and hospitals in a country where fuel, water and other basic supplies are increasingly scarce.
Sweat was piling up on the foreheads of workers at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treatment center in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which receives some 100 new patients every day and where at least 20 people have died. Families continued to arrive this week with their loved ones, sometimes dragging their limp bodies into the crowded clinic where the smell of garbage filled the air.
Dozens of patients sat in white cubes or lay on gurneys as IV lines connected them to bags of rehydration fluids that gleamed in the sun. So far this month, MSF has treated some 1,800 patients in its four centers in Port-au-Prince.
Across the country, many patients are dying because they say they cannot get to a hospital in time, according to health authorities. An uptick in gang violence has left people unable to safely leave their communities, and a lack of fuel has shut down public transport and closed gas stations and other key businesses, such as water companies.
Enfant sat next to his son’s body as he recalled how Joliva had told him that she felt bad earlier in the week. She had warned him and his two other children not to bathe or wash their clothes in the sewage-polluted water of a creek near their neighborhood, the only source of water for hundreds of people in the area.
He insisted that they buy water to wash their clothes and add chlorine if they were going to drink it. As Joliva got worse, Enfant tried to take care of him on his own.
“I said ‘Honey, you have to drink the tea,'” he recalled. “He told me again ‘I feel weak’ and he also said ‘I can’t stand up’”.
Cholera is a bacterium that sickens those who ingest contaminated food or water and can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, and in some cases, death.
Haiti’s first major contact with cholera occurred more than a decade ago, when United Nations peacekeepers carried the bacteria into the country’s largest river through sewage from their base. Nearly 10,000 people died and thousands more fell ill.
Over time, cases dwindled to the point that the World Health Organization was expected to declare the country free of the disease this year.
But on October 2, Haitian authorities announced that cholera had returned.
At least 40 deaths and 1,700 suspected cases have been reported, but authorities believe the number is much higher, especially in the crowded and unsanitary slums and government shelters where thousands of Haitians live.
Compounding the situation, the lack of fuel and water began to show last month when one of the country’s most powerful gangs surrounded a key fuel plant and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Gas stations and businesses such as water companies have closed, forcing an increasing number of people to turn to untreated water.
Shela Jeune, a 21-year-old hot dog vendor whose two-year-old son has cholera, said she buys small bags of water for her family but doesn’t know if it’s treated or not. She took the boy to the hospital, where she continues to receive intravenous fluids.
“Everything I feed him, he throws up,” he said.
Jeune was one of dozens of mothers seeking treatment for their children on a recent morning.
The story of Lauriol Chantal, 43, was similar. Her 15-year-old son vomited as soon as he finished eating, which made her take him to a care center.
While he was there, the young man, Alexandro François, indicated that he was hot.
“He told me… ‘Mom, could you take me outside to wash or pour water on my head?'” he said.
She agreed, but suddenly she collapsed in his arms. The staff ran to help her.
Half of cholera cases in Haiti are among children under 14, according to UNICEF, and authorities have warned that rising cases of severe malnutrition make children more vulnerable to the disease.
Poverty has contributed to the deterioration of the situation.
“When you can’t get clean water from your own tap at home, when you don’t have soap or water purification tablets, and you don’t have access to toilets, you may not survive cholera and other communicable diseases. for water,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Haiti.
Perpety Juste, a 62-year-old grandmother, said that one of her three grandchildren fell ill this week as she worried her condition might have caused contagion.
“We spent many days without eating, I can not lie,” he said “No one in my house has a job.”
Juste, who lives with her husband, five children and three grandchildren, worked as a house cleaner until the owners left the country.
The growing demand for help is draining memories of MSF and those trying to care for patients with limited fuel.
“It’s a nightmare for the population and also for us,” said Jean-Marc Biquet, project coordinator for the NGO. “We have fuel for two more weeks.”
Life has come to a standstill for many Haitians like Enfant, who mourns the death of her son. He wants to bury him in his hometown, Les Cayes, in the south of the country, but he cannot afford the 55,000 gourdes ($430) it would cost him to move.
Enfant was silent and looked into the distance as she continued to sit next to her son’s body, too shocked to get up, she said.
Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.