How Cholera Showed Up In Haiti
Some of the most vivid and memorable lectures I sat through in medical school were about bacteriology. Our professor was a woman who was a consultant to the World Health Organization and who returned from assignments with dramatic first person stories about how she had collected trachoma samples from children in darkest Africa, and would thus help prevent their blindness.
She told us about Cholera, a horrible disease that killed quickly by diarrhea and subsequent dehydration. A disease of poor hygiene that was found where people lived in congested settings and hygiene was tough to maintain. Did not even need antibiotics to save most of the lives; just hydration and electrolytes. An illness apparently easy to prevent; there were pills to sterilize the water, simple public health interventions. But none of us were likely to ever see it. We would all practice in civilized countries, like France. Vive la France.
I surely never saw it in my years of the clinical practice of medicine. I heard days ago it was killing folks in Haiti. First, understand how serious this illness is. A very thorough Cholera fact sheet is provided by the World Health Organization.
Second, see how it has started to kill Haitians. Public health and its measures have always at least intrigued me, so I have followed this story. I have occasionally wondered, as did Martin Arrowsmith in the book “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis if a career like public health, saving teeming hoards, would not be rewarding. Unfortunately, it meant working in the political arena, something that made little sense to me then, even less now. Experts decided early on this disease was brought from somewhere outside the island.
I don’t know if it is true or not, for there do not seem to be official confirmations of these unofficial popular worries. Could a UN group from Nepal have shown up on the islands, had faulty pipes, and been at the start of this epidemic? Could a new building been built poorly with leaky pipes? Could there have been a simple lapse of common sense? Is this possibly devastatingly horrible state of affairs something that should or even could have been avoided? Public Health seems sometimes as if it should be common sense. Yet it is invariably explored in a theater of national or even international politics, which to me renders even the simplest things infinitely more difficult.
The truth will set us free from that which is compromising human life. I still believe human life should be valued above all.