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Hurricane then cholera strike Haiti

One of the Haitian clinics using medicines supplied by the WHO to fight cholera.  

Photo: WHO

(Staff)  NEARLY SEVEN years after an earthquake wreaked havoc in Haiti, killing 200,000 people, disaster has struck again.

Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Oct. 4th close to Haiti’s westernmost tip with winds of about 225 km/h (140 mph). It is estimated that 1,000 people have died and according to the UN, 1.4m people need immediate assistance – many of them are homeless.

In sharp contrast, few deaths have been reported in Cuba where the same hurricane-force winds struck. State-controlled media are trained to warn residents well in advance of approaching hurricanes; schools are closed and turned into shelters. State-owned buses are dispatched to evacuate residents, including the elderly and infirm.

In contrast with Cuba’s authoritarian state, Haiti’s government barely functions. The infrastructure is poor and the media chaotic. High crime rates mean residents refuse to leave their homes unattended.

Hurricane Matthew damaged not only poorly built homes but also fishing boats and agriculture. Grand’Anse had recently built a new road and set up mobile-phone coverage. Banana and cocoa plantations, which were beginning to flourish there, have been destroyed.

Families displaced by flash flooding are receiving urgently needed emergency relief kits, blankets, food and water purification tablets from agencies such as the Mennonite Central Committee.

“We know that these first supplies are a stop-gap, and in no way address the long-term challenges that the people of Haiti will face,” said Rebecca Shetler Fast, an MCC Haiti representative. “But it is important to us to be present in these communities right away, to bear witness to the effects of the hurricane and to provide what immediate assistance we can.”

In the storm’s wake, cholera is causing further devastation. Much of the water supply in the hurricane-struck region risks being contaminated. Those already infected with cholera need treatment, but a quarter of the health centers in Haiti’s hardest-hit southern area have been destroyed or seriously damaged.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is sending 1 million doses of cholera vaccine to the impoverished nation, where more than 200 cases of the deadly disease have been reported since Hurricane Matthew. They hope to prevent new outbreaks before the peak transmission of the disease during the rainy season from November to January.

Tragically the UN inadvertently brought cholera to Haiti when Nepalese peacekeepers dumped infected sewage into a river after the 2010 earthquake. About 10,000 Haitians have died of the disease since then.

Cholera is a waterborne disease that causes severe diarrhea. Without treatment, it can kill within hours and its short incubation period leads to rapid outbreaks. Every year, there are 1.3 to 4 million cases of cholera worldwide – and as many as 143,000 deaths – mainly in countries where poor sanitation and a lack of clean water help the disease spread.

The WHO isn’t sending more cholera vaccines because supplies worldwide are severely limited. Currently, 2.2 million doses have been stockpiled by worldwide health authorities for an estimated 1.4 billion people who are at risk of cholera. In Haiti alone, 10 million people are at risk.

Vaccines are not the only solution to fight cholera. In 1990s Peru, the cholera epidemic was curtailed without a vaccine through sewage treatment plants, education about sanitation and personal hygiene, and a water system that was maintained even after natural disasters.   TAP

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