Already traumatized and not yet recovered from the devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people last January, Haitians are now dealing with a cholera epidemic that. has ripped through the country’s poor population killing over 2500 and sickening hundreds.
As the cholera epidemic death toll rises and adds to the misery of the people, so has fear and anger. Cholera has not been a problem in Haiti for many years and the people blame voodoo priests and foreign medical help for causing the disease.
Voodoo is recognized as one of the principal religions of Haiti. Since October 2010, cholera panic has led to the lynching or beheading of 45 voodoo priests and practitioners. Fearful Haitians believe that voodoo priests spread cholera by scattering powder or casting spells on victims.
Haitians also believe that the outsiders who have come to help, have brought cholera to their country which has been cholera free for decades. Scarce medicine, crowded camps, bad sanitation and poor hygiene add to the misery.
Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, a toxin that causes the intestines to release water in huge amounts, causing severe diarrhea. It is an extremely virulent disease. It affects both adults and children and can kill within hours.
Cholera occurs in places with poor sanitation, exposure to contaminated or untreated water and food. It happens in overcrowded living quarters, during war and famine. The Haitian refuge camps are perfect breeding places for cholera. The severe dehydration experienced by the victims can result in death.
The World Health Organization has developed an oral rehydration solution to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through diarrhea. Severe cases of cholera may be treated with intravenous fluid and antibiotics. Given adequate fluids in time, most people make a full recovery. Without treatment death will occur.
Fear and ignorance about the spread and prevention of cholera are the main obstacles in fighting the disease. In one case an angry mob destroyed a cholera treatment plant being set up by foreign medical workers.
The difficult job now is to convince suffering Haitians that opening new cholera treatment plants near their villages can only help stop the spread of the disease and protect their communities.