Cholera in Haiti: Brief Retrospective

Cholera Clinic at Ranquitte

There are about a million challenges facing Haiti today. One of the greatest is the disease of cholera. That name might sound familiar if you grew up in the 80’s or 90’s and played a round or two of the video game Oregon Trail on some computer with a blazing fast 486 processor. Your fictional pioneer daughter Mary or Jenny or whatever you named her would inevitably contract cholera and die like 40 miles past the Kansas River crossing. And that’s what cholera is to most Americans. A minor virtual inconvenience in a video game (because let’s face it, Mary whined a lot and never helped carry the buffalo meat back to the wagon train) or something they have never heard of. It was a benign, almost forgotten idea in Haiti as well. It hadn’t been seen in about 50 years. But then there was this little earthquake that knocked out everything including water and sewage treatment systems…

Sparing the medical jargon, cholera is basically a bacteria that makes you vomit and shit until you die from dehydration. That’s why there are holes in those beds in the photo and tubs next to the beds. It only takes a couple of days to kill a person, if untreated. The bacterium travels easily in water, but is readily contained if treatment systems are intact. They aren’t in Haiti. Cholera has made its home in the rivers which are an important part of daily life. People drink, wash, and play in the rivers. So cholera spreads through the population. Its effects are exacerbated by inconsistent hygiene and a lack of education.

Generally speaking, cholera is easy to treat and easy to prevent. It’s cheap, too. Generally. But in this case, amidst all the confusion and tragedy, cholera was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Again simplifying, there are eastern hemisphere strains of cholera and there are western hemisphere strains. They require different treatments. Haiti is in the western hemisphere. It logically follows that cholera found in Haiti would respond to treatments for the western hemisphere strain of the disease. Only it didn’t. It somehow ended up being one of the eastern hemisphere strains. While motivated individuals were in the process of making this determination, the disease took hold in Haiti. And nearly 2 years later, it hasn’t let go.

1 comment for “Cholera in Haiti: Brief Retrospective

  1. Tracy smith
    07.02.12 at 11:14

    Thanks for making a difference!

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