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General News    H2'ed 3/29/10

Haiti: Public Health Crisis Looming and Where is Media?

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Is Haiti prepared? Probably not.

There are 800,000 doses of the oral rehydration agent, Pedialyte, stored, but it will not be enough if a large outbreak occurs. Infants can die within 24 hours if not given the proper palliative care. There are not enough oral and IV antibiotics in-country. Even if drugs and rehydration kits were freely available, there is not an adequate distribution system in place to deliver supplies and no one to coordinate at many of the camps, except those located with the guarded compounds of the NGOs. Haitian mothers have not been told how to make simple rehydration solutions of salts and sugars.

The current Haitian public health surveillance consists of forms submitted to the Haiti Ministry of Health once a week and an under-developed network of sites to support laboratory testing.

Dr. Wilson suggests that along with the forms, health workers share information about the types of health events they are witnessing.

This is referred to as "informal surveillance," and we offer the following Google group, the "Haiti Epidemic Advisory System" and the InSTEDD-supported SMS/text messaging alert system called Geochat to facilitate communication among us. In this Google group we will be sharing insights into what to look for and examples of informal surveillance in action. Please note this group is only for ground-based Haiti responders. The link to the Google group may be found here, and instructions for how to sign up for the SMS/text messaging Geochat service is found on the group website.
Our team encountered the Haitian Minister of Health, Dr. Alex Larsen, in Petionville one evening. It was a chance encounter, since all of the government offices were destroyed during the quake and officials who are still alive are hard to find.

We asked the purple-shirted chain-smoking minister if we might have a conversation with him after he finished his conversation and dinner. He said "yes," but left without even a goodbye or "we will talk later." Maybe Anderson Cooper can get him to open up. If he can find him.

A journalist friend in Rwanda, Patrick Bigabo, sent me a message on FACEBOOK that pretty much sums up the state of media affairs with regard to Haiti.

"The problem with public affairs reporting in poor nations is that for the western media there is no news unless horror is ongoing. Real media has vanished."

Let's hope that the infants in Haiti can miraculously avoid the looming horrors. If they begin dying by the thousands, rest assured mainstream will be there, detailing every last dying breath and the valiant attempts of their celebrity doctors to save lives.

"The horror. The horror."

Crosspost with LAProgressive

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

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