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Cholera [Oct. 24th, 2010|01:30 pm]
The cholera outbreak in the Artibonite valley is far from us here in Leogane. Well, far by Haitian standards, where the 40 kilometer trip from Leogane to Port au Prince routinely takes up to four hours. I don't know much more than what's on the news; Thursday night we heard rumors of sickness from contaminated food or water that was in the North but might have spread. Today, there are 254 confirmed dead and over 3,000 sick. Cases have been reported outside of the Artibonite valley, despite what seems like a large WHO, PAHO, UN, Government of Haiti, and NGO effort to contain the epidemic. From Leogane, there's not much All Hands can do besides watch. If you're thinking of helping, Partners in Health is probably the best situated to treat and contain the outbreak.

I've learned a lot about cholera in the last two days. It kills, and spreads, by intense diarrhea and vomiting. Maintaining sanitation and clean drinking water are the best ways to prevent its spread and are basically impossible in Haiti. It's a country of nine million people with no water or waste water treatment plant. Ditches full of fetid water, overflowing pit latrines, and tainted wells are common. In the IDP camps, which are everywhere in a large radius around Leogane, conditions are much worse. This map is a day old, but shows two key facts about this epidemic: Saint Marc in the Artibonite division, which is the area of the outbreak, and the location of the main IDP populations. The cholera is still, probably, miles and hours from the camps around Port au Prince. If it reaches those camps, though, it will be very difficult to treat and stop.

From Biosurveillance, where the IDIS scale is also explained


Blogging about this is tough because news changes so quickly. When I wrote the above paragraphs last night, there were no confirmed cases of cholera in the capital. A few hours later, there were five. It doesn't sound like there have been any more in Port au Prince since last night, and Alert Net says the outbreak may be stabilizing. The rates of new infections and deaths are much lower. People are concerned but not at all panicked, at least, not in Leogane. Yesterday we took the afternoon off of work, as scheduled, and had a super relaxing barbeque for lunch, with the best food I've had since I returned, three weeks ago today. The mood has changed from anxious planning on what to do in variously escalating scenarios, to a calmer wait-and-see. I admit, watching the updates on Twitter that are tagged #Haiti #cholera didn't help my nerves. Of course, it's as much a stream of inaccuracies and speculation as information.

Here are some links that I've found useful on the situation:

MSF's Definition and Treatment of Cholera

The US Embassy in Haiti's Warden Message on the outbreak

Twitter's semi-literate babblings, in which people apparently make up random facts, like "How did u let this hapn when u nu hait wud have cholra!!!" but, once in a while, has useful links.

And if you want more fodder for worry, and occasional hope, go ahead and google Haiti & cholera twenty times a day like I do.