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Haiti:Tracking Deadly Cholera Through the Central Valley

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The last figures on the cholera epidemic indicate over 11,000 cases and 724 deaths. The mortality rate is approaching 7 percent, up from 6 percent a few days ago. As you read this, the figures are most likely outdated and just plain wrong, since the epidemic is growing exponentially. Factor in the observation that reporting from rural areas is non-existent and it becomes clear that Haiti is facing an uncontained crisis. If you want to watch the spread of cholera in Haiti on a map, look at the Pan American Health Organization's tracking tool here.

The red indicator is bleeding across the screen in a graphic that resembles a horror movie.

Government statistics are also lagging, but they can be found here.

Chatter on Twitter and Google paints a picture of a totally broken health care system, and demonstrates malfeasance in planning for an epidemic after the January 2010 earthquake claimed up to 300,000.

Here is a World Share report from Twitter:

Cholera now hits the island of La Gonave, Haiti. The only functioning hospital on the island is filled to capacity. There is insufficient medical staff to treat those affected. Newborn babies and their mothers are dying.

Here is another from a Google Group:

The situation at the other Limbe hospital (Government hospital St. Jean) was worse. We brought a patient there only to discover a huge tent and no one attending a building full of patients. There was no doctor or nurse present, dry IV bags, and when we asked how a doctor could be reached no one really knew. Staff have been overwhelmed and they are looking for nurses. I think that things are not great at the hospital (St. Michel) or at the gymnasium where they are putting the suspect cholera cases. I had thought that MSF (Doctors Without Borders) was all set up, but they still won't be for a couple of days apparently.

There are hundreds of similar reports on social networking sites.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports "a need for medical staff with more experience, additional medical supplies, including at least 1,200 body bags" in Artibonite--the center of the outbreak.

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Lack of sanitation and at least 1.3 million living under plastic sheeting and tarps in ill-named "tent" cities created an environment ripe for the outbreak of diarrheal disease. Cholera, which has not been known in Haiti for an entire generation, was unexpected, but had the government, NGO's and other "charitable" organizations properly positioned rehydration supplies throughout the country in anticipation of an outbreak of an inevitable lesser intestinal disease, part of this catastrophe could have been avoided and lives saved. Cholera is treatable with rehydration. Don't treat it, and you can die within 12 hours.

Numerous rivers and streams flow through Haiti's mountainous areas. The largest drainage system in the country is that of the Artibonite River. It is strongly suspected that the United Nations Nepalese Annapurna camp introduced cholera into the Meye River, a tributary of the Artibonite River, from a faulty septic system.

Picture Haiti as a horseshoe with the opening facing left or west. Haiti has three regions: the northern region, which includes the northern peninsula; the central region; and the southern region, which includes the southern peninsula. Four days ago, we drove through the central region from the UN compound in Mirebalais to the coastal city of St. Marc in the Artibonite region. In Haiti, these regions are called "departments." We had last been in St. Marc in March, and now wanted to track the flow of the cholera bacterium through the Artibonite River Valley to the sea. Our goal was to see how local communities and clinics were coping, and whether proper supplies were in place to deal with the epidemic.

This flash video was removed for security reasons

Turn on the caption function on the lower right of the slide show and follow our journey.

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As we made our way north from Port-au-Prince, and finally west from Mirebalais, fog obscured the hillsides and a light rain continued throughout most of the route. This was the remnant of Tomas, which had come and gone two days previously. The rivers and streams were flowing fast, and the Artibonite, if it had not already done so, was about to overflow its banks--spreading the cholera contagion throughout the valley--contaminating crops, water supplies and homesteads.

On the way to La Chapelle, the Creole spelling is "Lachapèl," a village in the Artibonite Department of Haiti, we found the St. Guillaume Clinic.

The only rehydration supplies the clinic had on Sunday were two boxes of infant Pedialyte. 26,500 people reside in the region. Nurse Marie Suzie Mondesir said "villagers are not making it to the hospital," and unknown numbers are dying at home. They see 30 patients per day, have no soap, and the five-gallon pail of disinfectant is filled once a day by the Red Cross. The Haitian Red Cross offered this container of bleach water for hand washing. This is the only help St. Guillaume had received since November 1.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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14,600 hospitalized, 917 fatalities officially rep... by Georgianne Nienaber on Sunday, Nov 14, 2010 at 5:29:52 PM
reminds me of the Haitian cholera crisis. It's ca... by GLloyd Rowsey on Monday, Nov 15, 2010 at 8:11:54 AM