Be My Guest

Cholera In Haiti – No Time to Argue – Guest Column by Herb Boyd

It’s almost three weeks since I was part of delegation to Haiti under the leadership of Dr. Ron Daniels, founder and president of the Haiti Support Project. Fortunately, we were back weeks before the outbreak of Cholera which has presently consumed the news cycle about the troubled island nation, still trying to recover from a devastating earthquake in January.

This was my second trip to Haiti this year. Dr. Daniels led a delegation there in February, right after the earthquake and we saw first hand how widespread and destructive the disaster was. From our residence just north of St. Marc we often crossed the Artibonite River, a region cited now as the epicenter of the cholera epidemic which to date has taken more than 300 lives.

It wasn’t unusual to see people bathing in the river, walking away with containers of water, washing their clothes, or even urinating in it. The river, for eons, has been a vital source to residents in the area.

Since we lived near the center of the outbreak naturally I was reminded of our stay there, and even more so recalling the most recent trip which took us all over the island, including a torturous trip to the Central Plateau.

Outside of Mirebalais, where the road is undergoing serious repair, one of our guides began to vomit profusely. We stopped the bus and allowed him to relieve himself, secured him some water, and insisted that he sit next to the window for the remainder of the trip.

Heavy vomiting is one of the symptoms of cholera but that disease never crossed our minds as we sought to help him. We attributed it to something he had eaten, or possibly motion sickness from a particularly bumping ride through Mirebalais and elsewhere.
Two weeks later, back in the states, my videographer came down with three days of severe diarrhea. He was very dehydrated and had to seek medical treatment from his doctor. This too occurred before the reports of Haiti’s cholera swept the world.

From our tour guide and my videographer I was given some indications of how the disease can hit all of sudden and debilitate, though I am sure that neither of my traveling companions is afflicted. But hundreds of others are and now comes all sorts of rumors and theories about the origin and who is responsible for the recent outbreak.

This past Sunday on Gil Noble’s “Like It Is” on ABC-TV, City Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene was hesitant to say what might have caused the current outbreak of the disease, carefully shying away from a few of the theories now making the circuit.

Joining Dr. Eugene on the show was activist Smith Georges who was also reluctant to indicate exactly the source or the time of the outbreak, though he did note that it is rather odd that it’s taken so long to occur given the months since the earthquake.

Others have suggested that the cholera may have been brought in by outsiders, perhaps as Georges reported, from the many foreign troops dispatched to Haiti after the disaster or foreign workers with the various NGOs.

It does seem strange that there has been no cholera in Haiti for more than a half century and that the nation was spared an outbreak in Latin America in recent times.

There is no end to the theories of origin but what is uppermost now is to fight the spread of the disease and hope it doesn’t reach the crowded tent communities in and around Port au Prince. Like smallpox, one incidence of cholera could wreak havoc and leave in its wake thousands of fatalities.

Clean and potable water, antibiotics, and other medical supplies are desperately needed, and this has nothing to do with when or where the disease started.

Herb Boyd is an author, activist, teacher and journalist and is a roving reporter for http://www.television.org – He is a resident of Harlem, New York

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