I can’t help but be saddened by the events unfolding in Haiti but receiving very little media attention. Months after the horrible devastation and loss of life as a result of the earthquake a few months ago, the survivors are about to face the scourge of a massive cholera outbreak.
The first major piece in the media that caught my attention was by Donald McNeil of the New York Times. The most disturbing part of that story reads “While normally less crowded than the cities, the Artibonite is now host to thousands of earthquake refugees. Many are crowding in with relatives and drinking from the local St. Marc River, into which raw sewage also flows. The area is prone to flooding in the rainy season, which is now in progress.”
I believe we are on the verge of a biological disaster of unparalleled proportion in recent history in North America in terms of the numbers of deaths. There are still over 1 million Hatians living in refugee camps as a result of the earthquake. These camps are ideal breeding grounds for the causative agent of cholera, Vibrio cholerae. Untreated cholera can have mortality rates of 25-50%. These deaths are primarily due to the extensive dehydration that results from the massive vomiting and diarrhea caused by this organism. Rehydration is the most effective treatment and can reduce mortality to around 1%. The biggest challenge in most cholera outbreaks is that “delivery in remote areas remains difficult during epidemic periods.” (CDC)
Just one day after this story more troubling news emerged. Cases of cholera have been confirmed in Port-au-Prince, which is about 60 miles from where the first cases occurred and about a three hour drive due to the poor conditions of the roads. A cholera outbreak in this central hub is certain to lead to cases being spread to other refugee areas.
I truly fear that this outbreak could lead to thousands, if not tens of thousands of deaths. Worse yet, it may be too late to prevent much of this from unfolding without some incredible efforts at this point, but I don’t have much faith that it will be forthcoming. Haiti may have already crossed the point of too little, too late.