Calls mount for Haiti to postpone election amid cholera outbreak

First presidential hopeful Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly asked for a dayslong campaign truce. Then, opponent Jude Célestin announced that he was temporarily suspending all radio and TV ads, and called on his opponents to follow.

Now, Leslie Voltaire is asking to postpone the Nov. 28 election.

A deadly outbreak of cholera in an already earthquake-wracked Haiti has become one more complication in a nation still grappling with the effects of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that left an estimated 300,000 Haitians dead and at least 1.5 million Haitians living underneath tents and tarps.

As campaign jingles continue to play on local radios and three presidential candidates taped a televised debate Wednesday morning, Haiti health officials reported that after days of successfully containing the epidemic to the rural valley where it first broke last week, cholera had finally spread.

Officials said 174 cases had been confirmed in the city of Arcahia, a small rural village 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince. There were also suspected cases in nearby Cabaret, and they were investigating reports in Cité Soleil, a slum in the capital not far from the main international airport.

The waterborne bacterial infection had killed 303 Haitians, including five in Arcahia, and hospitalized 4,722 Haitians, the government said late Wednesday.

"It's encroaching, and we are taking measures," said Dr. Ariel Henry, the chief of cabinet for the Ministry of Health. "We are training people on the ground to give out oral rehydration salts. We are putting in place cholera treatment centers. We are also doing a big effort all over the country with 50,000 people. We are training them, and we are preparing to deploy them."

The health ministry has not asked for a delay of the vote, but it has asked candidates to refrain from holding rallies in cholera-affected communities. For some like Voltaire, an urban planner who is among the 19 presidential candidates seeking to replace President René Préval, that is not good enough.

"The vote should happen when the World Health Organization says it is contained, or when the (Provisional Electoral Council) says this election will not use rallies," Voltaire said.

So far, neither the WHO, which is working alongside Haitian health officials to contain the epidemic, nor the electoral council charged with putting on the elections has called for a postponement out of public health concerns.

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