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Suspected alcohol poisoning in Arcahaie

Photo by Maria Anguera De Sojo
Story by Nyka Alexander

Port-au-Prince, January 31 - At least 22 people have become ill and 18 have died in two Haitian communities in a case of suspected methanol poisoning in the Arcahaie commune, in Haiti’s Ouest Department (province).

PAHO/WHO received an alert from Haiti’s Ministry of Health (MSPP) on January 25 that 10 people had died suddenly in previous days following illnesses characterized by headaches and blindness. An investigative team was sent to the commune that included staff from the ministry, PAHO/WHO and the German Red Cross.

One of the victims of methanol-tainted alcohol speaks with a Haitian health official about her condition. At the time this photo was taken, she said she had a headache and couldn’t see. She was being taken to a health center in Arcahaie.

Patricia Santa Olalla, a medical epidemiologist who is coordinating the Alert and Response network for PAHO/WHO, was part of the team.

“We did a quick investigation in order to characterize the clinical symptoms and to assess the needs. In this case, we could see they needed medical assistance; they needed more than just medication,” said Santa Olalla.

Over the weekend, the International Federation of the Red Cross arranged for ambulances to carry the 17 most severe cases to three hospitals in Port-au-Prince.  PAHO/WHO’s pharmacologist/toxicologist provided treatment guidelines.

Among the survivors, many are likely to be irreversibly blind, doctors said. 

Officials are warning local residents via word-of-mouth and radio spots not to purchase alcohol on the local market until the source of the contaminated batch can be identified.

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