The cholera epidemic that started in the Artibonite region of Haiti has now produced in excess of 500 deaths. 7,000 cases have been reported, and the situation may get worse because of the flooding and stagnant water produced by Hurricane Thomas.
The storm hit parts of western Haiti on Friday and is blamed for eight deaths. The cholera outbreak began in northern Haiti about three weeks ago, but health authorities say there have been more cases since the hurricane struck. Contaminated water is a major source of the cholera bacteria.
On Saturday, President René Préval warned the outbreak could grow because of floodwaters. “On one side we have the rivers that will carry the bacteria everywhere, and on the other hand, we have the people who have been displaced that could also carry the bacteria.”
Thomas inundated camps harbouring earthquake refugees, and in Léogâne, west of Port-au-Prince, some camps turned into squalid islands. But according to an International Red Cross spokesperson in Leogane, “it definitely could have been a lot worse. In Port-au-Prince, the capital, Thomas turned streets into canals of flowing garbage but spared most camps that were set up after the devastating Jan. 12 quake.
A very contagious illness, cholera can kill within 24-48 hours by dehydration as a result of profuse watery diarrhea. It is not a pretty picture: I know from first hand experience as a result of our recent mission to Petite Riviere.
The illness caused by the bacterium, vibrio cholerae – according to the news – has not reached Port au Prince in a significant way. I say according to the news because nobody is really sure. Port au Prince is home to some 1,300 camps and 1,500,000 people – and the news of a pending epidemic in the camps would cause panic. We are waiting.
CTF-SOS DRS is preparing for the day the epidemic does come. We are located next to a camp of 6,500 people. We are going to be collaborating with others to set up a cholera treatment center on the grounds of our community in case the illness rears its head in the camp next to us. Let us pray it does not.
The center will have 4-8 beds and will be a place to isolate and treat people suspected of cholera. The most important aspect of treating cholera is hydration. and it is equally important to maintain good sanitation and hygiene. Stay tuned, and hope together with us that the epidemic does not come to Port au Prince.