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Cholera, Haiti’s new plight

November 20th, 2010

Bad luck comes in threes, they say, and this is clearly the case in Haiti. As if the earthquake and hurricane were not enough, Haitians are now struggling with a cholera epidemics too. It already killed 1,100 people, while at least 18,400 are treated in hospitals. I worry the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

Healthcare in Haiti has been under severe stress since the earthquake of last January. When I visited the earthquake refugee camps a few months ago, I met people queuing for hours to see a doctor – not because they were sick, but because they had never been examined by one. This is telling about the kind of health system that is dealing with the epidemics. Preparedness is low and confusion is high – so high that reportedly some Haitians refuse to go to cholera treatment centres, because they fear this is where contagion starts. So, part of the international assistance aims to raise Haitians’ awareness about the importance of washing hands and drinking clean water.

Another complication is that health services are concentrated in large communities, and are in short supply in the rest of Haiti. This allowed the disease to spread throughout the country, carried by people whose roots and homes and jobs have been swept away by earlier disasters, and who roam around searching for a way to make a living.

Although there are better chance to get help in the tent camps, the risk of contagion is also higher. Millions live there, in close proximity, sharing toilets and often lacking running water and soap. Ahead of the upcoming elections, large gatherings are expected, adding to the risk of contagion.

The Haitians I met during my visit are resilient people, who have coped with enormous challenges all their lives. Now they must persevere again, and we must help them again.

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