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Cholera Takes A Breather In Haiti, But Could Surge

The cholera epidemic that has raged across this country is claiming fewer victims, with a sharp drop in new cases everywhere from the shimmering rice fields of the Artibonite Valley to the crowded urban slums.

It is a welcome development, but tinged with doubt: It's not yet known whether the epidemic that has killed nearly 4,000 people is fading or merely taking a break, only to surge again perhaps with the onset of the next rainy season.

"The general situation is improving. It's clear," Stefano Zannini, chief of mission for the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said Sunday. "The problem is that the possible development of the epidemic is unpredictable. It is impossible to say whether the situation will continue stabilizing."

Any progress on controlling the disease would be a rare bit of good news for Haiti, which is passing through a particularly gloomy period. The country is on edge amid a political crisis over a disputed presidential election, and could see more of the violent protests that paralyzed cities and hampered cholera treatment in December. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands are still homeless from last year's earthquake, and a much-reviled former dictator suddenly returned and took up residence in the past week.

Zannini, whose group is contemplating scaling back its more than 40 cholera treatment centers, was unable to muster even cautious optimism regarding the disease. The best he could say was that he was happy new cases and deaths are decreasing to levels not seen since soon after the disease emerged in October.

"I would not be optimistic," he said in an interview with The Associated Press at his Port-au-Prince office.
 
 

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