To date, NGOs have kept Haiti’s cholera epidemic under control in and around Port-au-Prince. But how long can it be contained? Julie Dermansky investigates
In the aftermath of last January’s terrible earthquake, the fear that Haiti would become riddled with disease has become a reality. Despite stabilizing new infections in a handful of clinics, cholera is killing people every day. Though the elections have taken the spotlight off public welfare, the disease remains Haiti’s biggest threat.
Cholera cases in and around Port-au-Prince have stabilized in clinics I visited run by Doctors Without Borders, Samaritan’s Purse and the Real Hope for Haiti Clinic. The decrease in new cases is due to education, which is a positive sign. Patients are being taken to clinics sooner, which saves lives and makes cholera easier to treat.
New cases are expected to rise around the holidays, since cholera is a socially transmitted disease. Empty beds are being made ready now in anticipation of a spike. Patients often arrive in a coma, caused by a rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes. They come to the clinics by wheelbarrow, tap-taps (pickup trucks converted into public transportation) or carried by friends, family and neighbors on stretchers, beds and sometimes doors. Often, there are multiple infections within families.
Workers for the Haitian Ministry of Public Health go out on calls to remove cholera victims. Bodies are taken by truck to a mass grave in Titmayn. The site is near the mass graves of earthquake victims who were buried in January. The Haitian government estimates that cholera has claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people so far.
Editor’s Note: Julie Dermansky is an an Affiliate Scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. A recipient of an NEA award, she is also a Thomas J. Watson Fellow. Her work has been shown in galleries and museums in America and Europe. To view more of her work, go to www.jsdart.com; for more on epidemic, check out her photo essay on the Atlantic Monthly