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What is Cholera?

We are often asked about the status in Haiti with regard to hygiene and whether our efforts are well-placed there.  We believe they are.  In the following information, provided through the Partners In Health website, we explore the prevalence of cholera.  The following information is provided by Joia Mukherjee, Chief Medical Officer for PIH.

"Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness that is spread by drinking water containing the organism Vibrio cholera. Symptoms typically develop between one and five days after drinking water contaminated by the human feces of persons infected with the cholera bacteria.  Only about 10 percent of those who drink water contaminated by the cholera bacteria will fall ill; however, the infection can be fatal particularly among young children, the elderly, the malnourished and persons with decreased immune function. Those ill with cholera develop profuse, watery, high volume diarrhea that is rapidly dehydrating. Without adequate replacement of volume lost, patients may go into shock and die of dehydration. The mainstay of treatment for cholera is fluid and salt replacement—generally by oral rehydration solution—a standard combination of salt, sugar and water. Intravenous fluids may be needed if the patient is unable to drink due to vomiting or a depressed level of consciousness. Antibiotics are used to decrease the volume of diarrhea and the excretion of bacteria in the stool—both can help decrease transmission.

Cholera is a disease of poverty—and was one of the earliest documented public health problems.  Cholera epidemics are caused by a lack of access to safe, clean water. Typically, the world’s poorest people obtain drinking water from a river or stream; in the absence of pit latrines or public sewage systems, the same river is used for defecation allowing human waste to mix with the water used for drinking.  While boiling water will kill the cholera bacteria, the fuel to boil water costs money and as wood-based charcoal is the main source of cooking fuel in Haiti use of charcoal is also related to the continued deforestation of the country. Cholera can also be transmitted if a person eats food contaminated with the cholera bacterium.

Cholera in Haiti:

While Haiti has not had a documented case of cholera since the 1960s, the conditions in the lower Artibonite placed the region at high-risk for epidemics of cholera and other water-borne diseases even before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. In 2000, a set of loans from the Inter American Development Bank to the government of Haiti for water, sanitation and health were blocked for political reasons. The city of St. Marc (population 220,000) and region of the lower Artibonite (population 600,000) were among the areas slated for upgrading of the public water supply. This project was delayed more than a decade and has not yet been completed. Additionally, in Gonaives the capital of the Artibonite has been destroyed in two waves of floods and mudslides, after tropical storm Jeanne in 2004 and after the series of hurricanes in 2008, made possible because of the environmental devastation of the region. The destruction contaminated the water supply and left the infrastructure (including the health infrastructure) of the upper Artibonite in ruins, forcing people to seek residence and medical care in St. Marc.  Lastly, the earthquake of January 12, 2010 resulted in the displacement of 1.7 million Haitians. While reliable statistics are not available currently, the last estimate, as of March of 2010 was that 300,000 addition Haitians had fled Port au Prince to the Artibonite. As there are no “camps” in the region, these displaced persons are “home hosted”—joining poor relatives in already overcrowded conditions, without water security or adequate sanitation. The dispersal of displaced people makes it difficult to provide centralized services."

It is simply because of the lack of centralized services and the overcrowded conditions that a product like SurvivorBox™ offers a solution to fight disease in this disaster-torn region of our world.

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