Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for the ‘Partners In Health’ Category

CWTL Production Diary: A Cholera Update

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Even for someone who has been following the cholera epidemic in Haiti, last weeks FSRN report on the recent increase of cholera infections was startling.

The outbreak of cholera, confirmed in Haiti on October 21, 2010, has killed 6000 people and more than 350,000 have been infected. There were 1000 new cases of the disease each day last month alone.

At the on-set of the outbreak there were several organizations focused on providing support and offering immediate and short-term, life-saving solutions, but now fewer and fewer are continuing their efforts and providing services focused on the long-term solutions.

Plans to improve conditions in Haiti exist, but progress in slow, as government agencies and non-governmental organizations have limited funding. Additionally millions in pledged aid has not arrived; money, which could be used to implement programs, including water sanitation and home reconstruction for the thousands still homeless since the January earthquake.

The cholera epidemic is ongoing and infections rates are increasing at an alarming rate. Although cholera is a preventable and manageable disease it has been extremely difficult to control, because of Haiti’s lacking infrastructure, sanitation and overall access to resources by the affected population. Medical aid and education on how to avoid infection is essential and is available in certain areas, but these critical resources and information are not reaching everyone in Haiti, especially those in rural areas where fewer services are available and resources are beyond scarce.


The report highlighted Cate Oswald who co-ordinates the Partners in Health clinics in Haiti. Oswald cited reasons for the increased infection rates; reasons that seem to parallel reasons given for high infections rates of other disease in Haiti.

The impact of the infection and its affect on Haitians has caused confusion and fear. There is an overarching theme – the way the cholera is being viewed is much like other diseases with a history in Haiti such as HIV/AIDS. The general public’s inability to cope and fear of becoming infected from sick family members and community has created a social stigma that is producing deadly results.
As a resource poor nation, Haiti has struggled to combat preventable and manageable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV for decades, but cholera is new, and with all that Haiti has to contend with, the stigma attached to the disease has resulted in fewer people seeking help and thousands of people dying as a result. Instances of families taking people to treatment centers, only to abandon them because of fear of becoming sick or people dying in their homes, because they are afraid to admit that they have cholera are all too common and have contributed to increased infections and deaths.

As doctors and medical facilities work to cope with the cholera infection with little to no resources, they are up against the additional task of informing the public of the proper steps to take to avoid becoming sick. Those who are aware of how to avoid infection are still faced with the reality of unavailable drinking water, soap to wash their hands, proper latrines and easily accessible medical facilities.
When it comes to day-to-day survival in Haiti, the general public remains strong and is doing what they can to get by without food, water, proper shelter and sanitation, and the greater issue of Haitian welfare remains in the hands of the Haitian government and foreign governments who have vowed to implement long overdue solutions.
And so the Haitian people wait; fear of infection is real and until the people are provided with the support and basic resources to avoid infections and feel secure, the stigma will persist and cholera, a fully preventable and manageable disease will continue to take lives.