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lunes, octubre 25, 2010

Death In The Time Of Cholera

Haiti, ravaged for centuries and suffering long before its enormous, destructive earthquake, now braces for a huge cholera epidemic. The cholera epidemic on Saturday had already killed more than 200 and there are more than 2600 reported cases. Today the news is still bad. The NY Times reports:

Diarrhea, while a common ailment here, is a symptom of cholera. And anxiety has been growing fiercely that the cholera epidemic, which began last week in the northwest of Haiti, will soon strike the earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

“It travels with the speed of lightning, I’ve heard, and it can kill a person in four hours,” said Jean Michel Maximilien, a camp leader. “So of course we are all on edge.”

For now, the cholera outbreak, with more than 250 deaths and more than 3,100 confirmed cases, has been contained to the central rural regions around the Artibonite River, 60 miles north of the capital. But Port-au-Prince is tensely preparing for its arrival in the densely populated slums and tent camps here, with treatment centers being established, soap and water purification tablets being distributed and public safety announcements stressing hygiene. ...

Since the January earthquake, this devastated country has been bracing for a secondary disaster — a hurricane, an eruption of violence, an outbreak of disease. But nobody anticipated that cholera would make its first appearance in 50 years. It was “the one thing we thought we were relatively safe on,” said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the United Nations humanitarian coordination office.

Because so many in Haiti teeter on the brink, and because a cholera epidemic in Port au Prince and the rest of that beleaguered nation can be so horrible, this is a good time to make a small donation to Doctors Without Borders, who are already on the scene and providing treatment.

And then there's Philip Roth's most recent book, Nemesis, that explores a polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey in 1944. I finished reading it last night; I had read the reviews when it came out earlier this month. If like me you know Newark, and particularly the Weequahic area, the book brings back memories of the 50's and early '60's. And Bucky, the main character, is as familiar to you as any other kid you played stickball with. If you don't know that particular Newark, maybe you don't quite get the book in the same way.

The epidemic in Newark, like the threatening one in Haiti, has its many mysteries. Nobody knows exactly how it is spread. Nobody knows what to do to stop it. Flight seems a good idea, until the disease and death arrive anyway. There is seemingly no escape. There is no way to predict who will become ill and who will be untouched and who will die. And in Haiti the options, because of the grinding poverty are far fewer. Treatment will remain mostly unavailable. There will be many more fatalities even if the outbreak can be isolated in Antibonite. What a horror.

My heart goes out to Haiti. And to those who are there now. May the epidemic be contained. May they all be well.

Please make a donation to Doctors Without Borders. This can help.

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