For over a million people still homeless nine months after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, a brand new nightmare is just beginning.
What many health-care experts and humanitarians have been warning and worrying about since dozens of makeshift tent cities started popping up in and outside of Port-au-Prince is starting to manifest. Haiti is in the midst of an outbreak of a disease that hasn’t been seen on the island in years.
At least 135 people have died in a suspected cholera outbreak, and aid groups are rushing in medicine and other supplies Friday to combat Haiti’s deadliest health problem since its devastating earthquake.
The outbreak in the rural Artibonite region, which hosts thousands of quake refugees, appeared to confirm relief groups’ fears about sanitation for homeless survivors living in tarp cities and other squalid settlements.
“We have been afraid of this since the earthquake,” said Robin Mahfood, president of Food for the Poor, which was preparing to fly in donations of antibiotics, dehydration salts and other supplies.
Many of the sick have converged on St. Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St. Marc, where hundreds of dehydrated patients lay on blankets in a parking lot with IVs in their arms as they waited for treatment.
Catherine Huck, deputy country director for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the Caribbean nation’s health ministry had recorded 135 deaths and more than 1,000 infected people.
“What we know is that people have diarrhea, and they are vomiting, and (they) can go quickly if they are not seen in time,” Huck said. She said doctors were still awaiting lab results to pinpoint the disease.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial infection spread through contaminated water, which causes diarrhea and vomiting. The symptoms are so severe they can lead to dehydration and death within hours.
No cholera outbreaks had been reported in Haiti for decades before the earthquake, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Haitian officials, including President Rene Preval, have been pointing to the lack of severe disease outbreaks as a hard-to-see success of the quake response.
With more than a million people left homeless by the disaster, however, experts have warned that disease could strike in the makeshift camps with nowhere to put human waste and limited access to clean water.
One of the biggest problems with this outbreak is the fact that diseases like cholera, which haven’t appeared in widespread numbers in the US, Canada and Europe in over a century, is that many younger doctors don’t have much real life experience dealing with them. Which makes diagnosing and treating symptoms just that much harder.
Pray for the people of Haiti.