Haiti’s Five-Year Cholera Outbreak, and How Not All Aid Is Helpful
Contributed by Azarene Foutouhi
Following a devastating earthquake in 2010 Haiti felt the beginnings of a Cholera outbreak. As in the case of many natural disasters, there was a resultant influx of aid in the form of supplies and volunteers from foreign countries, yet nearly five years later the outbreak seems to be getting worse. Only recently the infection rate which seemed to hold steady at a rate of one thousand new infections a month jumped to one thousand per week. After millions of dollars in aid, and months of humanitarian work, how has the outbreak not improved, and why is it getting worse?
Cholera is an acute and potentially fatal disease which is caused by the ingestion of food or water by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The WHO estimates roughly 1.4-4.3 million cases annually, and a short incubation time of 2 hours to 5 days can result in an explosive outbreak. Sanitation and the maintenance of clean water sources are essential to maintaining a stable outbreak-free environment.
Where did the aid go? Soon after the earthquake, Haiti was flooded with foreign humanitarian aid: nurses, doctors, and supplies. However, recent reports have pointed out that while foreigners arrive assuming a nation–such as Haiti–has a shortage of specialized health workers, this is not usually the case, and that help without an informed context is little help at all. The initial aid did little to stop an outbreak in a country where many live in slums or the undeveloped countryside with no access to sanitation or clean water, and have to choose between the purchase of food and soap. As the aid workers left Haiti, little remained but the medical supplies they had brought with them and latrines in the cities.
There is promise however, in the Cholera vaccine, which has been administered to approximately 300,000 people to date. However, with a nation of 10 million people there is much work yet to be done, and with an estimated price tag of 2.2 Billion to eradicate Cholera in the nation, people are left wondering when it will happen.