Haiti Cholera Toll: Stricken - 11,000, Dead - 750+

Over eleven thousand Haitians have been infected with cholera, and over 700 have died. The epidemic is worsening very quickly. Over 80 of the dead have died within the last 24 hours as of this writing. The resources needed to deal with this are not available, apparently because cholera in Haiti is not as interesting or sympathy garnering as an earthquake in Haiti.

From Medecines Sans Frontiers:

Over the past three days, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams supporting Haitian Ministry of Public Health facilities and working in their own independent medical structures in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, have treated more than 200 people suffering from severe diarrhea, a clinical symptom consistent with cholera.

Even if very few of those cases have been confirmed as vibrio cholera through laboratory analysis, the severe symptoms of the patients treated in these facilities is extremely concerning. MSF staff are treating all cases according to standard cholera treatment protocols, with oral or intravenous rehydration and antibiotics as necessary.

At all of MSF's own four facilities in Port-au-Prince, teams have treated an increasing number of suspected cases since Saturday, November 6. These facilities have more than 300 beds already set aside for treatment in cholera treatment centers (CTCs). MSF is currently constructing an additional 320-bed CTC in the Sarthe neighborhood, where the organization already maintains a post-operative care facility.

"The increasing numbers of cases of suspected cholera in our facilities throughout Port-au-Prince are certainly alarming," said Stefano Zannini, MSF head of mission in Haiti. "Cholera is a highly treatable and preventable disease, especially once symptomatic patients are treated in a controlled, isolated environment like a CTC. The presence of CTCs in cholera-affected areas can relieve pressure on local hospitals and health structures, greatly reducing the risk of infection among pre-existing inpatients and the wider community."

... more here ...

Cholera is a bacterial infection (Vibrio cholerae) of the small intestines, causing uncontrollable diarrhea and/or vomiting. It is acquired mainly through contaminated water or food, and without proper treatment can be fatal.

Treating cholera is actually pretty easy. All you need to do is replace contaminated water and food with clean water and food, supply liquids, mainly in the form of oral re-hydration mix, supply intravenous fluids if necessary, and in some cases, administer antibiotics.

However, in some places, people are reintroducing cholera into the water supply on a regular basis because there is not a clear distinction between effluence and water supply. In some places, there is no clean water or uncontaminated food, and re-hydration mix is unheard of and there is no chance of getting antibiotics.

But really, letting people die in large numbers of cholera these days is only possible if we as a society more or less want it to happen. The epidemic going on Haiti right now can only happen because we are letting it happen.

Maybe this will help. There is a story out there suggesting that CHOLERA IN HAITI MAY SPREAD TO THE UNITED STATES.

If you want to help, consider these secular organizations:


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I heard something disturbing on NPR today (might have actually been BBc's The World). Now, I didn't hear the whole report, so maybe someone can add to this.
Apparently, there are people in Haiti that don't know how cholera is spread. They think it's bad air. An interviewed woman and her family were described having toothpaste on their upper lips to prevent transmission.

I once heard that when people in rural Africa were told about how parasites in water caused illnesses (really taught how it worked) and how filtering the water would get rid of the parasite, they were happy to do the filtering.

I hope someone is straightforwardly working to educate people in Haiti about how to stay safe (hopefully, that's possible). I'll check out all those groups.

Thanks for posting this Greg.

By Lynn Wilhelm (not verified) on 12 Nov 2010 #permalink

I don't understand why they can't at least get cheap filters there and teach them how to use it. Cholera is a horrid way to die. Who is responsible for apportioning and planning where the aid monies go. Cholera, typhoid and typhus can always be counted on to join a misery party. Don't they know that??

In strictly amoral terms falling wages and to many people chasing too few job in the US, mass unemployment and youth disillusionment that leads to terrorism in the middle east, and many of the problems within Haiti, are seemingly signs that there are too many people for the environment.

It would be nice if population could be controlled by birth control but such efforts have historically, China being the limited exception, failures. Given the ineffectiveness of birth control as a policy external forces are free to come to bear.

What is the best way to die? Is cholera worse than civil war or insurrection. Is slow weakening and succumbing to opportunistic infections better, or worse, than being blown up by a suicide bomber, or being a suicide bomber. Is being born into an all too crowded society rife with disease and conflict a blessing or a curse? Is it better to die early from a disease, or make it through to adulthood, and watch your children die?

I'm not telling anyone to let them die, or not, the default is to save those we can and think deeply about it later, but we are well into a calculus that is not well defined.

It would be nice if population could be controlled by birth control but such efforts have historically, China being the limited exception, failures.

That is actually a terribly inaccurate statement, in practice. Yes, showing up and saying (without the Cultural Revolution's left over infrastructure including the Red Army) that everyone will now have fewer babies does not work well, but the Demographic Transition does. Wherever health care is provided universally and at reasonable cost and with reasonable effectiveness, girls are educated and not just boys, along with a mixture of job opportunities provided and not just slave factory labor or picking cotton, fertility plummets.

But that would involve wrenching some of that wealth out of the hands of the ... well, the wealthy.

Art, there is a calculus but the key variables are off limits because the wealthy want to keep every bloody dime, or at least, enough of them do that they manage to control the politics. The very things you mention, having to do with the US economy (leading to less helping overseas) are the direct result of the concentration of too much wealth in too few hands.

There is only one problem, and it is easy to see how to fix it, yet made almost impossible to do so.

I'm reminded of one of those right-winger viral emails a relative sent me. It said (and I'm paraphrasing, since I deleted it): "How can we [the US] let children go hungry, vets be homeless, the elderly not get needed medication, etc., but send aid to Haiti?" Well, the blatant racism and isolationism aside ("Why are we spending tax dollars to help black foreigners?)", the upshot is this: in the US, yes there are malnourished children and homeless vets, but we have the ability to fix that. We lack the political will to do so (that would be socialism, you know). Haiti lacks that ability, due to social, political, and physical infrastructure (or lack thereof). See the difference? (For your average tea-bagger, probably not.)

(As an aside, I wonder how eager the tea-baggers would be to give money to help hungry children, or homeless vets, or disabled elderly if they weren't lily-white...)