UPDATE: deadly cholera outbreak in rural Haiti.

Partners In Health, one of our local partners in Haiti, has been updating us on a cholera outbreak in the southern Artibonite region. As of this afternoon, clinics have reported more than 2,000 cases of diarrhea and 160 deaths from the disease.

cholera

cholera: the facts.

Cholera is a waterborne disease that affects the lower intestine. It’s usually contracted by drinking water or eating food contaminated with human feces containing the bacteria. Only 10% of people who drink cholera-infested water actually fall ill — but if they do, constant vomiting and diarrhea will quickly cause severe dehydration and if not treated, death.

This week’s outbreak.

Aid workers and NGO’s on the ground have anticipated a cholera outbreak since the earthquake first struck Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.

More than 1.7 million were displaced by the quake immediately and another 300,000 fled the city in the following months. With hundreds of thousands living in unsanitary camps or staying in cramped houses of relatives, rural Haiti had all the circumstances for cholera to strike.

Amanda Schwartz from Partners In Health sent us an update earlier today:

Thousands of patients are appearing at clinical sites, and hundreds of deaths reported. St. Marc hospital is inundated and we’re working quickly to set up tents to accommodate the patient volume. Based on the pattern of communities affected, the outbreak appears to be tied to the Artibonite River, which flows from Lac Peligre in the Central Plateau westward to the sea (if you remember, we crossed this lake to reach charity: water communities).

PIH and Zanmi Lasante are of course very involved in the response, working around the clock with partners on the ground to treat patients and address the outbreak. We’ve also gone out to the communities where we work to try to identify serious cases and get them to hospital. While none of the communities where charity: water has funded or is funding are affected right now, there is serious cause for alarm that the outbreak will spread along the river. The need for clean water in Haiti, I’m afraid, has never been more urgent.

Learn more about what’s going on at the ground level on PIH’s blog here >

When our team visited Haiti after the devastating earthquake earlier this year to assess regions for new water projects, deadly diseases like cholera were at the forefront of our concerns. As PIH notes, cholera is “a disease of poverty” — it only really affects areas that lack safe water sources or sanitation. Access to clean water coupled with hygiene and sanitation training can greatly reduce the chances of outbreaks like this one.

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