Haiti: Will Cholera Spread To Port-au-Prince’s Tent Cities?

Yesterday, the United Nations raised concerns, and urged the international community for action to deal with the real possibility of a nationwide cholera epidemic in Haiti. Since the outbreak from last week, in the earthquake ravaged island, 259 people have died from cholera. According to the UN, and several NGOs, the number of cases currently stands at 3,000.

Efforts to contain the spread of the disease is now the top priorities for humanitarian agencies, which are trying to prevent the epidemic from reaching the camps still housing up to a million people left homeless by the massive earthquake in January. The UN World Health Organization and Haiti’s health ministry have already confirmed five cholera cases in the capital Port-au-Prince, but apparently the patients were infected while visiting the Artibonite region of the island, where the cholera outbreak started.

“The consequences of the epidemic reaching the cities-a very real prospect- would be devastating to all, including those still living in camps after the earthquake,” said Nigel Fisher, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti.

Cholera is an acute waterborne disease which if left untreated can kill within hours. It is an intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the bacteria known as Vibrio Cholerae. Symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhoea which can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not treated immediately.

“This is an extremely serious situation, and based on experience with epidemics elsewhere, it would be irresponsible to plan for anything but a considerably wider outbreak. We are particularly concerned about Port-au-Prince and those in the slum areas as well as in the camps, but we are also preparing for outbreaks in the rest of the country,” said Fisher with the UN.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders is preparing for the possibility that the disease could spread. At the moment the organization can treat cholera at eight of its facilities in the Artibonite region and in and around the capital Port-au-Prince. Doctors Without Borders announced yesterday that a cargo plane with 100 tons of medical supplies flew into Haiti from Europe on Monday. The organization is also putting together an emergency field hospital to be used as a cholera treatment center on a football field near St Nicholas Hospital. The facility is scheduled to be operational on Wednesday.

“The best way to contain the spread of cholera is through prevention, and ensuring that people have access to clean drinking water. In refugee settings in conflict areas, people are forced to seek water wherever they can find it,” said Dr David Olson, Doctors Without Borders’ medical adviser and cholera specialist in Haiti.

Nine months after the earthquake, hundred of thousands of internal refugees still live in squalid and appalling conditions in the make shift tent city camps. Many survivors have to cook and wash near toilets or even pool of human wastes. These are ideal conditions for an outbreak of cholera. In the overflowing Champs De Mars camp, in Port-au-Prince, the toilets are right next to the tents where survivors live. As a global community, we have dropped the ball on helping Haiti rebuild, and once again Haitians are paying the price.

Since I published the first version of this article, it was brought to my attention both on Twitter and Facebook, that ultra-conservative GOP US Senator Coburn was behind blocking the US aid package pledged by the US to Haiti. After some research, I found out that the obstructionism of Senator Coburn was only a small piece of a puzzle of  this disturbing global failure. The best document on the mechanics  of this unacceptable fiasco comes from an academic study. The 56 pages long study, conducted under the supervision of  Mark Schuller was made during the summer of 2010. The study involved more than 100 camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).

“The result show that despite the billions in aid pledged to Haiti, most of the estimated 1.5 million IDP are living in substandard conditions. For example, seven months following the earthquake 40 percent of IDP camps do not have access to water, and 30 percent do not have toilets of any kind,” says the 56 pages study. To view some of the best photographs of Haiti’s cholera outbreak click here.

Editor’s Note: Even if your respective government has dropped the ball on helping Haiti in  dire times of need, you don’t have to. The best way to help Haitians right now, in this new medical emergency, is to support and donate to  Medecins Sans Frontieres ( Doctors Without Borders). You can donate here.


9 Responses to Haiti: Will Cholera Spread To Port-au-Prince’s Tent Cities?

  1. Bilgeman October 26, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Mr. Mericer,

    Y’know, I scanned the referenced study, and it almost exclusively speaks of the failures of the NGO’s that are administering the aid on the ground there.

    So why do you single out one Republican US Senator for your obloquy?

    Don’t bother answering, I already know why.

    The essential problem in Haiti is that to solve the country’s most pressing problem, someone ELSE would have to build them an entirely modern country from below-ground up…and Singapore or Taiwan were not built overnight, and certainly not gratis, either.

    But in their misery, they really ARE useful as weapons to fling at your political opponents, huh?

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier October 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      READ again, I don’t think Coburn is a big part of the puzzle ( as I mentioned in the article). Shortly after the quake, IMF head Dominique Srauss-Khan said that what Haiti needed was a Marshall Plan. He was right, but the lack of global political will, the recession, and the fact that countries and people are focused more on themselves than on helping other nations was the major hurdle for anything real to materialize.

      You are mistaking when assuming that my target was Coburn, and for this reason related to some trivial US election cycle. My target was the neo-colonialism coming, at a heavy price, from the failed empire of global capitalism.

      • Bilgeman October 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm

        “READ again, I don’t think Coburn is a big part of the puzzle ( as I mentioned in the article). ”

        I think you doth protest too much.

        “My target was the neo-colonialism coming, at a heavy price, from the failed empire of global capitalism.”

        Uh-huh…so let’s cut to the chase, then. It is the United States’ fault that Haitian refugees are drinking the water downstream of where they have defecated?

        That essentially is what you are saying.

        And that’s why Americans are not only going to tune you out, but actively rebuke you and your worldview.

        Now as to the “neo-colonialism”…this TRULY marks you as a European, and coming from the mouth of Frenchman, is ridiculous in the extreme.
        France having had HOW many Empires?

        A hungry wolf with bad teeth and a weak liver, puking up every mouthful it had ever managed to bite off and choke down.

        (Remember, I’m half Cajun…NOBODY ended up in Terrebonne or Plaquemines Parish in the 18th century because they WANTED to be there!)

        BTW…how are your “neo-sans culottes” getting along?

  2. rj October 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    simple question…will cholera spread…? simple answer…more than likely…why? …over population, disaster, natural population control has worked through the ages…

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier October 28, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      Just what we needed here, an advocate of social Darwinism. @rj keep in mind that the population in question were plucked against their will from Africa, and moved to Haiti by France to grow sugar cane. What kind of “natural population control” are you talking about? I am afraid that it is one that tolerates genocide, it sounds like you are talking about a breed of animals over-reproducing. This is just pathetic.

      • Bilgeman October 29, 2010 at 6:59 am

        I don’t think that rj was advocating Social Darwinism, but rather just stating a bald fact.

        But don’t let what the man said get in the way of your attacking the messenger because you don’t like what he has to say, regardless of the truth of it.

        Makes you a lot of needless political enemies…y’know?

      • rj October 29, 2010 at 11:24 am

        read the statement, There is not any advocacy in it, just a little truth… simple fact of life if you crowd enough persons into a small area (island) (large cities) with little to no chance of flight and there is any type of Natural Disaster there will be massive loss of life through survival fittest.
        California Earthquakes, New Orleans Floods, S Africa Famines, Mid west USA tornados, hurricanes, tsunomis etc..get real, If you are not prepared to care for yourself when you are on your own then its your fault… In the most industrialized nations today if food and water is not readily available ( get it at the store ) people would start starving within weeks….

  3. Martha October 29, 2010 at 5:56 am

    Cholera is a disease of poverty.

    The people are living in temporary camps with no electricity, water, food, sewage, jobs or housing.

    Many people (but not Mr. Bilgeman) know there are many ways for people to become sick, including groundwater that becomes contaminated during flooding, contaminated bottled water, and (once there is illness) close contact with infected people.

    People don’t have access to food or clean drinking water, never mind buying soap or purified water.

    The people made significant efforts in some of the camps to organize themselves for prevention, but factors such as those reported by the linked source have created desperate conditions and many people are risk – especially children.

    The appearance of cholera is not a surprise to anyone familiar with public health issues. Donor states, including the United States, have been slow to set aside political interests and participate in assisting to establish clean water supplies; and incompetent in collaborating with aid groups and local action networks to try to address both immediate human rights needs and longterm problems in relation to planning for resilience.

    Many people (but not Mr. RJ) know that the mechanism of ‘selection’ is oppression.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier October 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you for this Martha.

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