Date: Sat. Oct. 23 2010 9:50 AM ET
As the Francophonie summit got underway Saturday in Switzerland, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged $1 million in special funding to help combat a deadly cholera outbreak in one of the organization’s member nations.
As of early Saturday morning, 194 people were confirmed dead in Haiti, as the country grapples with its worst health crisis since last January’s earthquake.
“All together, if we stand shoulder to shoulder, we can help our Haitian friends find hope again, rebuild their villages, rebuild their lives,” Harper said during the summit’s opening session.
“And, I believe, I speak for our entire organization when I tell the head of the Haitian delegation to keep up their spirits. Your friends in the Francophonie won’t let you down.”
The outbreak has also infected more than 2,300 residents of Artibonite province. Late Friday, the first two cholera cases were confirmed outside the central Artibonite region in Arcahaie, which is closer to the capital of Port-au-Prince. Officials are also probing potential cases in Croix-des-Bouquet, a suburb of the capital.
Should the disease hit the capital, experts fear it will spread rapidly among the thousands of Haitians who have been living in camps since the Jan. 12 quake, which killed at least 300,000 people.
Cholera was not present in Haiti before the quake, but experts warned squalid conditions in displacement camps would serve as a breeding ground for disease. Cholera is a bacterial infection that is contracted from contaminated water. Symptoms include severe diarrhea and vomiting that can cause dehydration and death.
While Haiti’s plight was a primary topic of conversation as the Francophonie summit got underway, so was the organization’s very future. The 54 member states include some of the poorest countries of the world, and more than half come from Africa.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged delegates to continue financial aid to the poorest countries, particularly to help combat climate change.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who co-hosted the previous summit along with the federal government, said member states must continue their work promoting the French language around the world.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press