While a lot of resources poured into Haiti in the weeks following the January 12th, 2010 earthquake, which killed 230,000 Haitians, the world’s attention has shifted to other global hot spots, though the situation remains dire for millions of Haitians. Now a looming cholera epidemic threatens to kill thousands more due to poor sanitation conditions, limited health resources, and a lack of general knowledge about cholera. Cholera epidemics were exceedingly rare in the island nation before the earthquake.
The death toll has officially climbed to 796, and a total of 12,000 people are believed to have been infected, and now that the epidemic has moved into the capitol of Port-au-Prince, the situation could get much worse. Potentially tens of thousands of Haitians could die in the coming months, adding the number of deaths indirectly due to the earthquake in January.
Cholera can produce deaths within hours of symptom onset as the disease can cause a severe diarrhea which can quickly dehydrate a person. While relief workers and money will likely flow into Haiti, 1.3 million refugees still live in temporary tent cities and clean drinking water is expensive. The availability of clean water is important as cholera is spread through contaminated water.
The United Nations has asked for money to tackle the cholera epidemic, and the United States recently released $120 million for humanitarian efforts in Haiti following the earthquake. However, the delay of funding promised for reconstruction has in part contributed to the current situation in Haiti. Only 150 permanent structures have been built since the earthquake.
There are also concerns about chronic corruption in the country. Moving aid supplies from the port into the city reportedly often requires a bribe. Transporting sick cholera victims to clinics to receive hydration is often difficult as well, tragic as those who receive treatment have a 99% chance of survival-while those who don’t get to a clinic have only a 40% chance of surviving.
While some aid has recently be freed up for Haiti, the State Department views the situation in Haiti as a chronic one and believes that the cholera epidemic will stabilize. Sadly, this optimistic scenario may not play out.