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lunes, noviembre 08, 2010

Haiti: The Threat Of Cholera Continues

Hurricane Tomas could have been significantly worse. The storm moved slightly to the West; it didn't strike Port au Prince directly. Twenty people were killed. The news is reporting that fewer than 6,000 more people were rendered homeless by the storm. Against a backdrop of long term, pervasive suffering, the Hurricane did not harm as many as was feared. But now, amid all of the misery, another threat looms. Will the flooding make the cholera epidemic in Haiti even worse? CNN reports:

Experts feared Monday that the hurricane that battered Haiti over the weekend could worsen the outbreak of cholera that has killed hundreds of people and hospitalized thousands since it began last month.

The official death toll attributed to the outbreak was 544, with more than 8,000 confirmed cases, Health Minister Alex Larsen told CNN Monday.

Though no cases have been confirmed in Port-au-Prince, tests were being carried out on 91 residents of the capital -- all of whom live in or near the city's densely populated Cite Soleil slum, Larsen said. Except for one person who died over the weekend, all the others have recovered, he said.

Hurricane Tomas' trek past Haiti killed 20 people and injured another 36, a Communications Ministry official said Monday. Seven people were missing and 5,954 were homeless, the official said.

Health officials fear that the water dumped by the storm will worsen the outbreak. The concern is that overflow from latrines and septic tanks could contaminate the supply of fresh drinking water and contribute to the spread of the bacteria.

In the capital, the canals were not overflowing, said American Red Cross spokeswoman Andrea Koppel. But that was not the case in cities west of the capital, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Tomas, she said.

Still, even Port-au-Prince looks and smells like a dump -- a caldron of water, garbage and human waste. "We get used to it," said one resident.

It is extremely difficult to grasp how horrible conditions in Haiti truly are. Even before the recent earthquake, conditions were simply dreadful: poor sanitation, lack of clean water, widespread disease, gnawing poverty, pervasive hunger, high infant mortality, on and on and on. Haiti is by far the poorest country in this hemisphere. And this is nothing new. In 2008 the New York Times ran an article implying that conditions were so bad many Haitians wished they were still under the heal of the Duvaliers. That speaks eloquently to desperation.

The earthquake, of course, brought Haiti to a new level of national misery. And now Hurricane Tomas has made its own contribution to increasing Haiti's suffering. Has all of this brought Haiti now to the threshold of a huge cholera plague?

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.

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