Sunday, January 9, 2011

The cholera epidemic in Haiti

By Jean Herve Charles

I was travelling at the beginning of the month of October, from Port au Prince to Cape Haitian by public transportation when one of the travelers exchanged a phone call giving the information in the bus that eleven persons had died from food poisoning from a restaurant in Mirebalais, a bustling town not too far from the Dominican border. I would learn later it was not a case of food poisoning but the beginning of a cholera epidemic with the epicenter located near the Nepalese UN contingent stationed in that city.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: 
Mirebalais is close to the Artibonite River, the largest and the longest Haitian river. Investigative research initiated by the French Health Ministry and conducted by a French specialist, Professor Renaux Piarroux, along with the Dean of the School of Public Health at Harvard University, has concluded that massive dumping of human waste from the UN base had compromised the quality of the water for regular use.

Notable institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, have hidden the origin of the disease with the lingo that ‘the source of the virus could not be determined with certainty”. The Swedish Ambassador Claes Hammar broke ranks with the wall of silence against Haiti that its own government has contributed to erect.

I have the information from reliable sources from the United States that the strain of cholera in Haiti is from the Nepal UN contingent in Haiti. It is up to the United Nations to reveal the whole truth about the genesis of the cholera.

The cholera germ could not find a hotter bed than Haiti to germinate with celerity and intensity. Public health as an institution and in practice does not exist in the entire country.

To facilitate the vein of corruption, the government has emasculated the power and the means of each local entity to clean its streets and the management of its waste, by creating an institution, the CNE, which is outside the purview of the legislative branch and of public scrutiny.

The CNE with massive equipment bought with the Caribe fund is using this material and its human resource with the prism of political priority not with the goal of providing the citizens of Haiti with a clean environment.

To add insult to injury the man in charge of that institution, Jude Celestin, is the dauphin groomed by the president of Haiti to become the next head of state of the Republic.

According to John Snow (1813- 1858), the father of the etymology of the disease, the cholera epidemic is, above all, a disease of contaminated water. You will find no city in Haiti, including the capital, equipped with a system for distributing potable drinking water. (The town of Petit Goave has just received a grant from Red Cross France to provide the city with drinking water.)

Close associates of the government are in the business of selling drinking water; as such the government should stay out of that business. DINEPA the new institution funded by the Spanish government to manage the water system in the country, does not have a policy of universal distribution of potable clean water.

The cholera disease has already caused the death of some 3,481 people with 80,000 in hospitalization. It is expected, according to the Pan American Health Organization to reach an effective 1 million people. The Cuban doctors, as well as Doctors Without Borders, have been in the frontline of the epidemic containment.

The term cholera, derived from the Greek word khole, is caused by a bacillus named vibrio cholera. It has its origin in the Indian continent near the squalor of the Ganges Delta. It spread from there through the silk trade to Russia in 1817, killing one million people. It went next to Germany, 1831, London and Paris in 1849 and returned to Russia in 1852. It is a dangerous infection that starts with a profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting of “a rice water with a fishy odor”. It can kill a person within hours, with circulatory collapse leading to a renal failure and certain death.

While the cholera disease is extremely dangerous, it can be treated easily with vaccine (85% effective), oral serum and, in the larger context, universal water purification, clean sewage and proper waste management system.

Haiti is postponing this radical operation to engage in the propaganda of cleaning hands and bottled water, while refuse and uncollected garbage is all over.

The earthquake of January 12, 2010, was an occasion for Haiti to rebuild itself. The cholera epidemic is another opportunity for Haiti to correct its deficient public health system. I have seen no clear signals that the Haitian government, along with the international community, is seizing the opportunity to create a new nation where cholera or any other disease or epidemic will have no quarter.

The Dominican Republic has registered already 139 cases of cholera. The epidemic respects no borders. A functioning and responsible leadership in Haiti is the best handicap against this modern scourge that enjoys squalor to spread its wings!

January 8, 2011