Haiti At Risk: Isaac Could Bring Further Destruction And Disease

Update: From Cate Oswald, Haiti Program Director at Partners in Health: "We’re ensuring that each hospital has enough cholera treatment materials on hand and that we have identified alternative locations within our hospitals for any cholera treatment areas still under tents — in case of heavy rains and wind — and in the case that we start to see a surge in the number of cholera cases. We have staff on hand at all facilities, as always, ready to respond to any additional needs. The Red Cross is working hard with the Haitian government to get people still living in tent camps to emergency shelters.”

A hurricane watch is in effect for Haiti through Saturday morning as tropical storm Isaac is expected to pass over the nation still devastated from a 2010 earthquake. Currently moving northwest through the Caribbean Sea at 15 MPH, Isaac is expected to bring sustained winds of about 50 MPH and heavy rainfall. While gathering intensity, Isaac is predicted to wash over Cuba and Southwest Florida before reaching hurricane strength and making landfall near Mobile, Alabama next Wednesday.

Jan. 12th, 2010 Earthquake

Haiti, a nation that shares an island with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean sea, suffered a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010. The Haitian government eventually estimated 316,000 were left dead, though the actual death toll is still contested. A further 300,000 were reported injured, and a staggering one million were left homeless. The Inter-American Development Bank conducted a study shortly after the quake that estimated the cost of rebuilding Haiti at nearly $14 billion.

Haiti Today: Cholera a Reality

According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 400,000 people are still living in 575 camps. Due to poor living conditions in makeshift camps, access to clean water was immediately an issue in 2010 and still threatens the livelihood of many displaced Haitians living in sub-standard conditions. On October 21 2010, the Vibrio cholerae pathogen was identified by the Haiti National Public Health Laboratory. The following day, a cholera outbreak was announced that, one year after the earthquake, had already led to nearly half a million infections and 6,631 deaths.

According to the CDC, ‘Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.’ A person can only become infected once they have ingested Vibrio cholerae from a water source that has been contaminated by the fecal matter of a cholera victim.

Local authorities expect cholera levels to spike in the wake of Isaac due to increased rainfall, which is predicted to result in mudslides and flash floods. When Haiti experienced heavy rainfall last April, cholera levels increased. If the multitudes of Haitians living in camps are left without access to a potable water source or means of purification, such as boiling or iodine tablets, Isaac could carry contaminated water to new locations and exasperate what is already a complex emergency. 

For more information on cholera in Haiti, please read the in-depth reports from Disease Daily contributor, Jason Hayes, who reported from Haiti this summer on a trip funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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