Haiti's battle against cholera

Seasonal rains arriving with tropical storm Isaac could lead to an uptick in cholera cases on the island.


    Standing in Cite Soleil, one of Port au Prince's largest shantytowns - there is a 360 degree view of poverty, disease and filth and it is clear that no one should have to live this way.

    Pigs root through trash and waste as naked children with distended bellies play alongside them. Many of the young children have lacerations, irritated skin, and bloodshot eyes. There are no toilets to be seen and the tin-roofed shacks are only separated from the sea and lagoon by shells and garbage.

    We came here to meet a man who had survived a bout of cholera last year. Thirty-six-year-old Cedernier St Louis told us he would rather live somewhere else, somewhere cleaner, where his kids could grow up healthy. But he says he can't afford to move and nobody will help him.

    So he spends his nights with his two children and wife in a six square-metre shack. The wind howls at times and the sea - only a few metres away - floods their one-room lean-to during the rainy season. With it comes trash and sometimes illness.

    St Louis is one of the half a million Haitians to come down with the disease since October 2010. More than 7,500 have been killed in the outbreak. Without access to clean water and better sanitation the disease will be hard to prevent - which means treating it instead.

    That has fallen for the most part to Medicins Sans Frontieres – or Doctors Without Borders. Medically-speaking, treating the disease is quite easy, doctors and nurses give patients hydrating salts.

    For tougher cases they hydrate them on an IV drip. But treatment is difficult logistically as many patients live in far-flung villages. Some die before they can make it to a treatment center.

    Wake of Isaac

    Before it struck the US Gulf Coast as a hurricane, Isaac blew through southern Haiti, leaving at least two dozen dead and concerns the rains it brought could lead to an uptick in cholera cases.

    MSF says it will be difficult to tie specific cases to Isaac, but with seasonal rains arriving with force, there's more likelihood of the disease spreading further. Meanwhile MSF is preparing for the government to take a larger role in caring for cholera patients.

    Oliver Schultz the head of the MSF mission in Haiti says it is going to take time for the government to manage the problem, but he is optimistic for the long run battle against the disease.

    "There is a plan to eradicate cholera on the island of Hispaniola between 2012 and 2022. Within this ten year timeframe, the state and international actors assume that actually cholera can be eliminated in Haiti and the Dominican Republic." Shultz said,

    "It needs willingness, capacity and funding."

    It will take better water treatment and better sanitation too. We traveled to Cange, a small village in the mountains two hours outside of Port au Prince to see one of several projects providing cleaner water for some Haitians.

    Around 10,000 people in the area have access to clean water throughout the day at communal fountains. The water is pumped from a nearby spring and is filtered and chlorinated before being piped to the fountains.

    Kids splash in the water and drink straight from the tap. The area has seen almost no cholera cases.

    A US engineer Robert Wood on the project says it doesn't matter how clean the drinking water is if proper waste isn't addressed.

    "The main challenge is if you don't properly mitigate your run off and your waste. You have potential for that contaminating your water source," Wood said.

    "If everyone throws their trash on the ground or defecates on the ground when the rain comes, it runs off to your source."

    And that's the problem for so many in Haiti.



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