Dissident: Cuba kept cholera outbreak quiet to protect tourism

Residents of Cuba are reporting more than a dozen deaths as a result of an outbreak of cholera caused by poor water sanitation and flooding form Hurricane Sandy.

Cuba's government said has nothing publicly about cholera since the end of an outbreak in Manzanillo on August 28 that caused 417 confirmed cases. Walter Clavel, a Cuban dissident, said that police stationed at hospitals are telling visitors to keep quiet about cholera and other diseases, the Miami Herald reports.

Clavel said the police are there to avoid upsetting Cuba's $2.5 billion per year tourism industry.

"We have to question whether the Cuban government today prioritizes their need for tourism ... more than local public health demands," Sherri Porcelain, a public-health expert at the University of Miami, said, according to the Miami Herald.

The cholera outbreak has forced hospital and prison quarantines, school shutdowns, and the closing of restaurants and street kiosks selling juices and other water-based products. Government buildings put hand- and shoe-disinfecting stands at their doors and public health officials are going door-to-door to search for cholera sufferers.

On November 2, an independent report by the Pan American Health Organization said that suspected cholera cases were being investigated in Cuba. More than 100 cholera cases were purportedly treated at the Boniato prison in the Santiago province, with an additional 80 cases at the nearby Ambrosio Grillo Hospital.

Cuba has a history of keeping disease outbreaks under wraps. The Cuban government jailed a doctor who reported a 2000 dengue epidemic for more than a year and is currently holding an independent journalist who first reported the Manzanillo cholera outbreak, the Miami Herald reports.