Cholera returns to Haiti as nation lurches from one crisis to the next.
February 5, 2015 11:12 IST
A year ago, when President Michel Martelly was seeking re-election, many hoped that the return of the Cholera epidemic would be a boon for Haiti.
In the wake of the earthquake in January 2010, Haiti faced a severe cholera epidemic on its doorstep. But in the second year of Martelly’s presidency, the health crisis was far less devastating and had virtually disappeared: the government had declared an official end to the outbreak, and the epidemic had declined to an annual average of just 10 cases per 100,000 people, well below the pre-earthquake figure of more than 1,000 per 100,000.
However, a year later, in June, the cholera returned with a vengeance on Haiti, killing more than 1,400 people and prompting a renewed appeal for the resignation of the president.
Since then, Haiti has been in a death spiral marked by a rising number of cholera cases, which is now officially reaching 1,000 per 100,000 people, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation.
And in the days and weeks after the earthquake, the death toll mounted to more than 23,000, with hundreds more dying of malaria, dengue and other conditions.
In Haiti, cholera is a disease, like polio, that has no cure and no vaccine. It is an ongoing problem that kills about 3,000 people every year, according to WHO figures.
A similar pattern played out in the aftermath of the earthquake. In 2004, another cholera epidemic caused by the arrival of a new strain of cholera bacteria in a weakened system was narrowly contained, after six months, by a vaccine produced by the World Health Organisation.
It has often been pointed out that, while the vaccination was successful in preventing another cholera outbreak, the fact that it took six months to complete a task that often takes months or years has often been overlooked.
In 2004, the vaccine took at least three months to develop and a similar period was required before it could be administered in Haiti. After the vaccine was available, the cholera cases continued to come, and the government said they were a result of the earthquake and the lack of clean water that followed it.