Cholera in Haiti: This isn't bad luck, this is poverty

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29 Responses to “Cholera in Haiti: This isn't bad luck, this is poverty”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Does boiling cholera infected water get rid of the cholera in it? Does chlorine kill it?

  2. Robert says:

    Can cholera be avoided by boiling the water? Would that kill V. cholerae?

    • Anonymous says:

      Sure, if there are any trees left for them to make into charcoal for their stoves (most people can’t afford any other fuel). You’d also have to boil the water used for washing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Boiling and chlorine both kill it. Boiling water takes a huge amount of energy, and chlorine is cheap and light to transport, but requires good training to use safely and effectively. So chlorine is the main tool used to fight cholera in the health care setting.

      In the community, the main tool to combat cholera is information (how to recognize the illness, how to get clean water, where to take sick people) and efficient transfer of potential patients into Cholera Treatment Centers, where their waste will be correctly treated, instead of infecting more people from their community.

      Cholera, more than any other intervention made by humanitarian aid workers, is a logistical problem more than a health problem. The quantity of saline solution, irrigation sets, and chlorine and cleaning equipment that must be moved is just enormous, we are talking 100′s of tonnes of it, so it can only be moved via heavy trucks and big airplanes. It takes a long time to get it gathered and ready, so it has to be pre-positioned in emergency stocks.

      This is why I always ask people, if they want to give money, they need to give it unrestricted, not for “the cholera in Haiti”. Aid agencies have long ago spent the money for the materials they are using today in Haiti. They need your unrestricted money today to refill their emergency stocks for tomorrow. If you really feel like you need to say what you donation is for, call it “emergency relief”. That means they can use it either for salaries today, or for backfilling the warehouse tomorrow.

      And if you are trying to decide who to give to, please consider MSF. They are the worldwide leader in innovations in cholera care, and they have undoubtedly emptied their warehouses to help Haiti.

      -jeff

  3. niche assignment says:

    You got it exactly right in the ten words of that headline, Maggie K-B. Thank you for the lucid and astute report and for including the action links. Was going to post a mention of Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante Haiti, but see that mediahacker has already done so.

    What the headline does so pithily, and the post elaborates, is what the Dr. Paul Farmer, who founded Partners in Health, calls “narrating Haiti” — explicating the human/historical context and causation of the centuries of suffering of the Haitian people. Mediahacker clearly nows well exactly how to do this, too. Now it’s up to al of us to both do whatever we can to aid immediate relief efforts and also get involved in putting pressure on our own government to do the right thing.

    Maybe I would add; “This isn’t “Poverty,” it’s centuries of oppression and exploitation.”

    Thanks for providing such a valuable forum and clearinghouse for information, BoingBoing!

  4. niche assignment says:

    Meant to hit “preview” not “submit” but thwarted by butterfingers .. typos: Gah!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oral rehydration packets? This doesn’t make much sense to me…

    Is it naive of me to say that reducing reliance on (comparatively expensive) prepackaged things like that might be better in the long term?

    That is: if the ORP’s are mostly glucose and salt, wouldn’t it be better to facilitate access to glucose and salt and let people make their own at home?

    I would think that sugar and salt’s availability would be more widespread (and cheaper?) than little packages imported from Western countries…of course, you run into the information issue here, I suppose. But I would think a rough recipe wouldn’t be too hard to disseminate.

    Then again, everything is harder than it should be at this level of crisis, I suppose.

    • Partly: Cholera tends to surface during disasters, at which time a lot of people don’t have the necessary ingredients on hand. Trying to treat a lot of people, in the same place, in a hurry, when supplies are scarce is easier with a pre-packaged mix.

      Partly: It’s not just tossing some sugar and salt into water. There’s an best ratio of several different ingredients that will get you the most rehydration, fastest, for the least amount of resources. You can teach people to do it. And public health experts do disseminate that information. But it is often a lot easier to disseminate the packets.

      Finally: This doesn’t have to be imported from a Western country. In fact, I doubt the factories that make ORT sachets are in Western countries, to begin with.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The ultimate issue is that Haiti is an island with limited resources and surface area. Unlimited population growth means deforestation until the island is denuded and soil washes away, people overwhelming public utilities, more people than jobs, low wages, etc. As long as you have Chrisitan busy-bodies sticking their noses down there and discouraging people from using birth control everything that is done down there is delaying the inevitable. No form of life on this planet has escaped this law of nature or ever will.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are plenty of other Catholic islands that are much smaller than Haiti and are not suffering from these problems. As the article says it’s POVERTY. A lot of people keep saying Haiti is overpopulated. It is not. It’s cities are, but this outbreak did not begin in the city it began in the countryside, so that was not the cause here. The deforestation of Haiti was partly caused by it’s obligation to pay reparations to France, not because of “too many people”. Most of Haiti’s resources have been taken by colonial powers.
      Spreading these myths about Haiti does not help.

      Re: the article

      Haiti has lots of Oral Rehydration Packets. They are sitting at the port and are not being distributed because the person in charge seems to be more concerned with filling out the right forms. It makes no sense to donate more if it’s just going to sit there. We need to put pressure on whoever is in charge there to distribute them.

  7. HotPepperMan says:

    Asking the simple question:

    What happened to the money pledged by governments? Seems it has not materialised…

  8. Anonymous says:

    A lot of the world’s ills could be eradicated if we only diverted some of our attention and effort away from destruction and toward humanity.
    But our attention is short and we’re constantly being bombarded by marketing, teaching us to be selfish and ambitious.
    *sigh*

  9. Anonymous says:

    The cause is not lack of money, it is lack of power. The customs officials demand bribes before anything is let into the country. Humanitarian aid, which has a low economic value, is kept out until the money is found. The government is killing people, not poverty.
    Even a free water purifier still sits at the dock.

    Rick Jost, director of Solar Oven Partners in South Dakota, has four pasteurizers waiting on the docks of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, right now. http://oakdalelakeelmoreview.com/main.asp?SectionID=4&SubSectionID=233&ArticleID=6980

    Water.org is a good organization. What would be better would be if we stopped propping up the government that is there to serve only themselves, and the charities.

  10. douqep says:

    Great post. Thanks very much for this. I’m off to donate. Convenient timing too as I just found out I got a promotion.

  11. DancingNoDancing says:

    Thank you, Maggie. You cover the story well. And I particularly appreciate your taking the next step to give us some ways we can help.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Oh, luck most certainly is involved. After the devastation and death it has experience, Haiti has been quite lucky to avoid rampant disease as long as it has. Unfortunately, this small grain of “good luck” is over. As you pointed out, poverty overcame it.

  14. Church says:

    “At the time, disease was thought to spread via “bad air”, a pre-germ theory explanation for the patterns left by person-to-person contact.”

    I’m fascinated by the way that theory gets dismissed, because it’s actually a proto-germ theory, albeit wrong (or at least, too limited) in this case. They had managed to figure out the broad overstrokes of the mechanism for a lot of diseases. Pity “bad water” escaped their notice, especially given the ‘elemental’ understanding a lot of them held to.

  15. SJ0508 says:

    I have a friend who is currently riding her bicycle from San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL to raise awareness and money for WaterAid. If you’d like to donate to her journey or straight to WaterAid, here’s her site: http://www.cyclingforwater.com/

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this article – we need constant reminding in the West that things as simple as clean water are a privilege for us.

  17. Anonymous says:

    An huge amount of aid promised by the US federal government has yet to be provided due to partisan bickering and political wankery in the House and Senate. The delay is shameful, and hopefully Congress will do something after the mid-term elections. Elections are such an impediment to democracy! Unfortunately there’s a good chance that the political divisions in the US will continue to hold back good policy such as aid to Haiti. Clearly, then, it is necessary for all compassionate people with some means of helping to do so, despite whether or not one’s tax dollars will supposedly be used for aid.

  18. Pierre F. Lherisson says:

    UN and MINUSTAH need global currency to import and export cholera.

    CDC had established that the cholera strain in Haiti was the South Asian strain. Nepal lies between 80 degree 12′ east longitude and 26 degree 22′ and 30 degree 27′ north latitude which place it in Asia.
    Nepal is experiencing a cholera outbreak since July 28th 2010. The outbreak of cholera in Haiti occurred where the Nepalese troops are stationed in Haiti. Haiti did not have the disease prior to the outbreak of cholera in Nepal. Therefore, the evidence suggests that the UN troops are the culprit. This assumption has been reinforced by Claes Hammar, the Swedish ambassador in Haiti,who said that the cholera is from Nepal.
    So far the UN denies the accusation but no one will expect the UN to concede that its particular soldiers are the culprits because it would be too politically damaging to the UN.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/Swedish-diplomat-says-Haiti-cholera-strain-came-from-Nep

    http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?Reportid=90231
    http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/h5n1/2010/08/cholera-outbreak-in-nepal-under-control-says-who.html

  19. nudobato says:

    Great post! This is exactly right: cholera happens because there’s no political will or awareness to respond to the conditions in which it spreads. So I hope you won’t mind if I make a plea to also help out here in Benin, which is experiencing the worst flooding in its history and faces the real possibility of a cholera outbreak that could dwarf the one in Haiti now, with 800 cases already reported. CARE International would be one worthy recipient if you want to fund relief efforts. Haiti’s disasters may not make the news until after they happen, but at least they get reported. In Benin, we have the chance to respond to this epidemic now, before it gets too far out of control.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Maggie, coming from an someone working with USAID on Cholera in Haiti, Cholera currently originates from a town 50miles north of Port-au-Prince. The are no cases of Cholera originating in tent camps in Port-au-Prince.

    Cholera is a bacteria that must be carried by a host to a location. Even in extreme poverty without a carrier host this would of never happened.

    A hint of what caused this outbreak can be found reading this article. http://topnews360.tmcnet.com/topics/associated-press/articles/2010/10/30/112776-un-probes-base-as-source-haiti-cholera-outbreak.htm

    Lets hope for the best,

    R

  21. Anonymous says:

    I want to say thank you for all of you for helping my country.I would like to ask an additional help: you prayer for asking grace for Haiti from God.To much to handle! We have sin! We are guilty!
    But God is Mercy!
    Past. Cher-Frere

  22. mediahacker says:

    Indeed, cholera is a disease of poverty. I’m surprised you don’t mention that earlier this decade, the United States blocked $54 million in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank that would have gone directly towards development of clean public water supply in the central Artibonite region – precisely where this cholera epidemic started and is concentrated. Access to potable water actually got worse for the population in recent years. The loans were blocked as part of the Bush administration’s campaign to undermine the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It was arguably illegal. All this according to a 2008 report by Partners In Health (http://pih.org), a medical group that’s worked in Haiti for over thirty years and is one of the leading responders to this latest cholera outbreak.

    And of course, Artibonite is known as Haiti’s “rice bowl,” but rice farmers’ livelihoods have been devastated over the past decade by imports of cheap US rice. President Clinton pressured Aristide to lower tariffs on imported rice as part of deal to restore him to power following a 1991 military coup d’etat.

    -Mediahacker in Port-au-Prince

  23. Thad E Ginataom says:

    Maggie has answered this, but I want to stress that the proportions matter. Too much sugar, and it would actually encourage diarrhoea — and you know how people like things sweet? Especially as the ORT mixture has a rather unpleasant flavour!

    So it is better that it is premixed, and comes in pre-packed dosages. It is also supposed to be mixed with an exact quantity of water to each packet.

    I can tell you… the stuff is bliss, even after sitting on the loo with a bucket in your hands, on and off for a couple of days. Short of a drip, this is the best way to get life back into your veins and you can feel it doing it.

    And I’ve never had cholera. Just the thought of having a hole cut in the bed so you don’t have to stop when you lie down. My god!

  24. Anonymous says:

    http://www.PureWaterForAllFoundation.com just sent 15 water purification kits to Haiti this week in response to this outbreak. These systems are not expensive and this problem can be fought.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for clearing that up. Poverty doesn’t exist outside of Socialist governments. Even though Haiti was run by a dictatorship for decades under Papa Doc you still need to play that right-wing game of labeling. Funny how big bad ol’ socialism is ok with right-wingers when it comes to your roads, medical care, family units (shared resources), shared costs of military defense, etc. All the countries you mentioned (e.g. North Korea) are dictatorships and right-wing by definition.

    Maybe dirt poor countries turn to socialism first because they have no market economy to speak of?

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