Cholera poses new threat to Haitians

Freedom New Mexico

As if the island country of Haiti had not suffered enough from the earthquake Jan. 12, the country is experiencing a deadly outbreak of cholera.

As of Monday morning, the Red Cross said there were 3,015 confirmed cases of cholera and 253 deaths from the disease, which is spread through contaminated water and food.

It appears the Artibonite River, about three hours northwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince, into which raw sewage has been dumped and which has flooded during the rainy season, is contaminated with cholera bacteria.

There is apparently no relationship between earthquake damage and the cholera outbreak, except that, because of refugee flows, more people are in the Artibonite Valley.

It may be a blessing that in the wake of the earthquake a number of relief organizations still have people in Haiti, able to respond to the new crisis.

On Oct. 20, the Red Cross began bringing medical supplies and clean water to the area of the outbreak, and World Vision, Operation Blessing International and several U.N.-affiliated agencies have responded in different ways.

Since prevention — washing hands, treating water, being extra vigilant about hygiene — is the most hopeful way to prevent the spread of cholera, a massive education program is under way, including guidance from people working in refugee camps and warnings and advice broadcast over radio and through text messages and other means.

The Caribbean area had not seen a cholera outbreak in 50 years. The hope is this one can be contained to the Artibonite region, but since Haitians are so mobile, that will be difficult. The five people found infected in Port-au-Prince all contracted the disease in the Artibonite region, but they may have infected more people while traveling.