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miércoles, noviembre 10, 2010

Haiti: Cholera Epidemic Grows

The news from Haiti continues to be simply awful. The cholera epidemic that started elsewhere has now reached the Haitian capital, Port Au Prince, where it threatens the 1.5 million people who were displaced by the recent earthquake. "Displaced" is a sanitary way of describing the squalor of terrible living conditions which only foster the spread of the disease.

The epidemic threatens the lives of people who suffered so much in the earthquake and who then survived the rain and flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas. Even before these natural disasters, Haiti was wracked by hunger, poor infrastructure, high infant mortality, short life span, poverty and disease. Now weakened people face the onslaught of a cholera epidemic.

The Miami Hearald reports:

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- With 73 people hospitalized for cholera in this quake-battered capital, the epidemic is spreading and has officially made its way into Haiti's largest city.

``We are on a rise,'' said Christian Lindmeier, spokesman for the World Health Organization in Haiti. ``The figures will climb.''

The cholera death toll now stands at 583, and 9,123 Haitians have been hospitalized with acute diarrhea, Haiti's health ministry said Tuesday.

The increase comes amid fears that flooding from last week's Hurricane Tomas will trigger more hospitalizations and even more deaths from the illness that is spread by drinking contaminated water.
Haitian government health officials acknowledged that the epidemic is evolving and has not yet peaked.

The Ministry of Health says the obvious, that the situation "is now a matter of national security." There's no doubt about that:

The spread of the disease to Port-au-Prince is worrisome because the overcrowded capital is not only home to most of the 1.5 million people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake and still living in tents or under tarps but also to hundreds of thousands of other people living without access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

Among those who have become ill are 115 people who sought treatment at a hospital in Cité Soleil, a teeming slum in the capital, Timothee said. Officials say they are still awaiting lab results to see if the patients have cholera or another illness that causes similar symptoms.

What emerges is a dreadful picture of widespread, unmitigated suffering of the Haitian people.

What is to be done about this? As I wrote yesterday and the day before,

Two things are clear: all US aid that was appropriated for Haiti, more than a billion dollars, needs to be freed up and delivered there. And it is also a good time to make contributions to organizations that aid Haiti. I recommend Doctors Without Borders.

I am horrified by what I see approaching in Haiti and the scale of human suffering that it portends. I continue to write about this, but I feel like Cassandra, that I combine insight into the future with utter helplessness.

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