In Haiti, Death Toll From Cholera Tops 900
Why the problem could linger, and why it doesn't need to
It's been 10 months since the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed and injured hundreds of thousands and shattered the country's economy and infrastructure. In recent weeks, a new problem has emerged--cholera, which has killed over 900 and far outstripped the country's health resources. Here are the latest reports from Haiti and from people watching the situation.
How It Is on the Ground The New York Times reports that "as of Friday, there had been 917 deaths and more than 14,600 were hospitalized with cholera-like symptoms ... Several epidemiologists have said the disease has not peaked and will likely worsen and break out in other regions of the country." The Times goes on to note that "even before the earthquake, most of the population lacked access to clean water and sanitation," and that "the rate of severe cases, about 30 to 40 percent, is far higher in Haiti than the 25 percent in a typical outbreak because of extreme poverty, unsanitary conditions and the fact that cholera has not been there for 40 years."
This Isn't a Coincidence, points out Cara Kulwicki at Feministe: "The cholera outbreak is largely a result of the earthquake and certainly compounded by the severe inadequacy of the earthquake response... Experts predicted the likely outbreak of deadly disease not long after the earthquake, yet infrastructure in preparation for the outbreak was still lacking when it hit."
Violence Tied to Outbreak CNN reports that "protesters angry over the government's handling of the cholera outbreak clashed Monday with peacekeepers in Cap Haitien... Schools and banks were closed, and gunfire ricocheted through the streets." Fear and misinformation are fueling the violence, with rumors spreading that the UN stabilization force is responsible for bringing the disease to Haiti. Meanwhile, says one doctor, hospitals are overwhelmed, and if patients keep coming in at these rates, "we're going to have to use public spaces and even streets. I can easily see this situation deteriorating to the point where patients are lying in the street, waiting for treatment."
This Problem May Last for Years Sarah Boseley at The Guardian explains that "once the infection takes hold, it is hard to keep in check. People in Haiti move about, travelling to market, to visit friends or get work ... Massive efforts are under way but it is hard to find even land to erect a shelter in earthquake-devastated Port-au-Prince." Boseley adds that "Haiti's cholera epidemic may last for years. Zimbabwe had a major outbreak in 2008 that is still not over and has spread to neighbouring countries."
Education Is the Key Here Nina Lakhani at The Independent writes that "Amid the fear-mongering I have not yet heard a sensible report on how easy [cholera] is to prevent and cure ... What is needed is clean water, decent sewage systems and, in the absence of these, education. Simple steps like hand-washing with soap before eating, or boiling water before drinking, will radically cut the chances of contracting cholera. Even when contracted, it is easy to cure with intense rehydration – clean water mixed with sugar and salt does the trick. Cholera need not be rampant if agencies co-ordinate their strategies and resources to educate people and make clean water an absolute priority."
A Video Cure: Sugar, Salt, Water Boing Boing points to a dialogue-free, three-minute video by the physician Jan Gurley that emphasizes the importance of hand-washing, and ingesting salt, sugar, and water, which can bring about recovery for cholera patients. Gurley is currently blogging from Haiti. As Liz Ditz puts it on Boing Boing, "4 caps sugar, 1 cap salt, 500ml clean water = life."