Cholera Outbreak Worsens in Haiti

A small child receives IV cholera treatment in St. Marc.

PHOTO: A woman hold a small child, who receives IV treatment for cholera in St. Marc. Image provided by Partners in Health, with more available here.

At this point, you’ve likely seen news of the cholera outbreak in Haiti. As of the NY Times’ latest report, there have been over 900 deaths, and experts are worried that this is only the beginning:

The death toll in Haiti’s cholera epidemic has reached more than 900, the government reported Sunday, as aid groups rushed soap and clean water to a disaster-wracked population to fight the disease.

The Ministry of Health reported that as of Friday, there had been 917 deaths and more than 14,600 were hospitalized with cholera-like symptoms. That is up from the 724 deaths and 11,125 hospitalizations reported a few days before.

The disease has been found in 6 of Haiti’s 10 provinces, known as departments, and is most severe where it originated, in Artibonite, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the deaths.

Several epidemiologists have said the disease has not peaked and will likely worsen and break out in other regions of the country, with United Nations health officials estimating about 270,000 may be sickened in the coming years. Several new cholera treatment centers are springing up in the capital and other areas.

Unfortunately, this slow-burning epidemic is not receiving the same kind of international attention and pledges of aid that the earthquake in Haiti at the beginning of this year. This is ironic if sadly unsurprising, since the cholera outbreak is largely a result of the earthquake and certainly compounded by the severe inadequacy of the earthquake response. As Alanna Shaikh said at the Progressive Realist a couple weeks ago:

Haiti is currently facing its first cholera outbreak in a hundred years. It’s not a surprise, exactly. It was something public health experts have been afraid of since the earthquake. But after nine months, we were starting to hope maybe it wouldn’t happen.

According to the BBC, 196 people have now died, and 2,634 have been hospitalized as the result of the cholera outbreak. It is most likely the result of drinking water from the Artibonite River. A few of the sufferers report drinking only purified water, but they may have gotten the disease from accidentally swallowing bathing water or from food prepared by an infected person.

Cholera is exactly the kind of diseases you worry about after a natural disaster. It comes from drinking water tainted with fecal matter, which is what happens when infrastructure is destroyed and people don’t have access to clean water or functioning toilets. Cholera is especially hard of children, who dehydrate and very quickly from the diarrhea caused by the disease.

Yes, 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. Indeed, as of two months ago, a mere 2% of the earthquake debris has been cleared; I’m unsure if more recent figures are available, but it’s doubtful that two months managed to magically accomplish what nine months did not. With this being the case, it’s less than shocking that there is also a severe lack of working toilets and uncontaminated water.

If you have money to spare, Partners in Health is an on the ground organization in Haiti that takes a community-based approach to providing free health care. They have been responding to the cholera outbreak by treating patients both at special treatment centers and in their communities, distributing soap and water purification supplies, educating communities on prevention, building showers, and working towards long-term water security in Haiti. You can support Partners in Health’s efforts to respond to the cholera outbreak and save lives by donating here.

Many of the links in this post via abby jean, who has stayed on top of news from Haiti consistently.

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