It’s not over
After being devastated by an earthquake last year, Haiti is facing a new threat
Less than one year after the massive earthquake that left over 200,000 dead and over 1,000,000 homeless, Haiti remains a nation in peril.
Unfortunately, there’s good reason to believe that life in Haiti is going to get much worse before it gets better in the small Caribbean country. Widespread cholera outbreaks in seven of Haiti’s 10 administrative regions have already accounted for over 1,100 deaths – and have many experts predicting a prolonged struggle with the debilitating disease.
Cholera, an intestinal infection that is brought on from drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, is a threat to any region where hygiene and access to clean water is a problem, appearing almost exclusively in developing nations. Although only a small number of people will become seriously ill from cholera, if left untreated victims could die within a few hours.
Menoj Menon, the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s liaison to the United States Agency for International Development on the cholera outbreak, said that Haiti was especially vulnerable to a cholera outbreak because of the incredible damage done by January’s earthquake. Also, due to the fact that the country went without cholera for decades, the population lacked any natural immunity.
Unfortunately for Haiti and its nearly 10 million inhabitants, the cholera problem is compounded by the homelessness still rampant in Haiti following January’s earthquake. That means many don’t have access to clean water, so even if a patient fully recovers – although a United Nations official said many patients never make it to a hospital or care centre – they nevertheless return to the same dangerous environment from which they got sick in the first place.
What is making the cholera issue even more dangerous is that many disgruntled Haitians believe the UN was responsible for bringing the disease to Haiti in the first place.
After rumours suggesting the UN was responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti began to circulate, protesters took to the streets to violently voice their displeasure.
Riots, which started on Monday, Nov. 14, saw angry protestors in Cap-Haitien burn and loot 500 tonnes of food from a World Food Programme warehouse, forcing the UN to ground flights carrying soap, medical supplies, and staff to cities in the northern region of Haiti. Ironically, this is where the cholera fatality rate is highest – further impeding the relatively simple rehydration process that is used to cure the disease.
The rioters, who claim Nepalese peacekeeping troops brought cholera into the country, burned barricades, threw stones, and shot at UN peacekeeping troops in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Monday, Nov. 14.
If this violence persists, it will only make it more difficult for hospitals and impromptu care facilities to treat the ill and that will only prolong Haiti’s miserable bout with cholera.
At this point, the UN has called for nearly $164 million USD to assist with the cholera outbreak, while the European Commission declared European nations should send medical supplies, in conjunction with money, to help curb the growing cholera problem.
Although the proposed aid seems like a lot of money, many fear that if the way January’s earthquake aid was handled – only $700 million USD of the U.S.A.’s promised $1.5 billion USD has been given to Haiti – is any indication of how Haiti’s cholera problem will be dealt with, it may be a bumpy road for the small nation to travel in the future.
“The money sent from abroad goes on the wrong things. The aid agencies don’t know about building houses or cleaning up a slum like Cite Soleil,” said Michael Brewer, an American nurse who has worked in Haiti for over a decade, to the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail. “Yet they have become the custodians of the funds arriving here because the Haiti government cannot be trusted with it.”
Regardless of political red-tape and previous aid controversy, experts are expecting the worst.
“We expect that soon it will be across the whole country,” said Dr. Scott Dowell, the Atlanta, Georgia-based head of the CDC’s Haiti response, “It has been distressing how fast it has spread.”