Cholera Outbreak in Haiti – and in Central Africa

By | 2010-10-22T17:48:01+00:00 October 22nd, 2010|14 Comments

Months after it was hit by a devastating earthquake, Haiti is now battling an outbreak of cholera. So far, more than 1,500 cases have been reported and 142 victims have died of the disease, which causes severe diarrhea. The treatment is straightforward – rehydration therapy to reverse potentially deadly dehydration – but relies on hospitals being able to handle surges of weakened patients. It’s been a century since Haiti last faced cholera, and until now everyone had been relieved that the earthquake hadn’t spurred an outbreak.

The Guardian’s Rory Carroll reports that the outbreak is taking place in the largely rural region of Artibonite, and the most badly affected areas are about 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Although Artibonite largely escaped the earthquake, it did receive an influx of quake survivors – and without adequate facilities to handle a swelling population, water sources became contaminated with human feces.

Artibonite was already grappling with extreme poverty. I recognized the area’s name because I’d heard a Planet Money podcast in which reporters visited l’Artibonite (“Haiti’s rice country”) to learn why the rice business in Haiti is so bad. The whole show is well worth a listen if you’ve got 19 minutes (the story starts around 1:45), but the show’s website offers this summary:

There are lots of problems with Haiti’s rice market. Since the earthquake, free rice from foreign aid groups has made it harder for Haitian farmers to sell what they grow.

Even before the earthquake, they had a hard time competing with foreign rice, which is produced using high-output, modern farming techniques that aren’t available in Haiti.

As we noted last week, some rice farmers find themselves forced to choose between keeping enough rice for their children to eat, and selling enough rice to pay for their children to go to school.

If people in the area are inadequately nourished because they’re making the difficult choice to sell their rice rather than eating it, that can increase the outbreak’s toll. Malnourished people tend to experience more severe cholera symptoms, which increase their risk of dying from the disease.

Of course, Haiti isn’t the only country struggling with poverty and inadequate sanitation systems. The World Health Organization recently reported that a wave of cholera outbreaks is affecting Central Africa; as of October 3rd, 40,468 cases and 1,879 deaths had been reported in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.

About the Author:

Liz Borkowski
Liz Borkowski, MPH is the managing editor of the journal Women's Health Issues and a researcher at the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Her blog posts are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer.


  1. Mary October 22, 2010 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    If only anti-cholera rice was available for Haitian farmers to grow:

    Two birds.

    But most people I run into with opinions on Haiti are opposed to GMOs. And NGOs. I have no idea what would work.

  2. g724 October 23, 2010 at 12:13 am - Reply

    Cholera isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom.

    The disease is religious dogma.

    In the past, this disease has interfered with the attempts by science to provide sanitation. At present, it oppresses women and blocks access to birth control.

    Look at the birth rate in the places that develop cholera, and that tells the whole story. Religious dogma leads directly to population overshoot of freshwater sources and wastewater sinks, and cholera is the symptom that results.

    If we want to deal with cholera, rehydration of victims is at best a band-aid. The key is prevention, in the form of universal science and math education, full legal and cultural equality for women, universal free access to family planning & contraception, and the removal by whatever means are necessary, of those who would attempt to gain and maintain their own power by enforcing deadly religious dogmas on others.

  3. Domestigoth October 23, 2010 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    g724: got an axe to grind, much?

    In this particular case, religious dogma is not directly causing cholera. As stated in the blog posting above, a massive and unexpected influx of displaced persons as a result of the earthquake can be blamed here. And considering that cholera hasn’t been seen in Hati in a hundred years (also stated above), we can deduce that this is likely not a problem related to the systematic abuses so often related to dogmatic issues, and is instead an isolated event unconnected to religion.

    Your blatant trollery is hurting the cause you purport to support. Blind hatred is no better than blind faith, because both are based in ignorance. Saying something as stupid as “cholera isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom [of religious dogma]” ignores the realities of the situation, and thus dismisses the very real and present human suffering that is occurring.

  4. Billy October 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    This is very sad and I think that we as a nation need to help Haiti and realize that if we don’t act soon to stop the cholera outbreak, it could end up being just as devastating as the earthquake. In about ten months, Haiti has been struck by two terrible disasters. If we united to help Haiti for the first, who says we can’t do it again? Although this outbreak probably won’t receive as much attention as the earthquake, something needs to be done. Not only do we have to help Haiti in the short term by donating clean, fresh water, but we also need to give them long term solutions such as better farming techniques and water purifying systems.

  5. Molly October 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    The world has been talking about Haiti so much recently, and it isn’t a good thing! It’s very sad to hear about Haiti and other countries as well that have high populations starving, and not being able to access water or food. But it’s another thing when they are eating and drinking, but the food and water is contaminated! Plus with the recent earthquake that struck them as well, Haiti needs us. We need to act upon this situation fast because we can’t let it get even more out of hand. Haiti needs help fast, so I think America should do something in order to help. Donating water and food would be a good start.

  6. Cyndi October 24, 2010 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    This article just helps show how much trouble Haiti is in. They have been faced with tow horrible things in the last year. When the Haiti earthquake happened the United States was right there helping them. Countries all over the world were sending teams to help save the people of Haiti. They haven’t gotten anywhere far from the earthquake now they are faced with another crisis. People around them are dying and we need to help. We just need to put ourselves in their shows once again. Just because this isn’t as extreme and as well known as the earthquake doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still help out. Imagine if you had to make the decision between selling your food or eating it. I don’t think that Americans could go one day without eating a bunch of food. It would be a challenge but for the people of Haiti it’s a choice. Unfortunately, their choices come with difficult consequences like diseases that kill. So, instead of us watching them die over there I think we need to stand up and help.

  7. Dean October 25, 2010 at 1:03 am - Reply

    I believe that this could easily be dealt with. If we as a country all spend a few bucks out of our pockets, we can save thousands of lives. If bad water is the main problem, then why don’t we just purify it? We should send people down to Haiti and distribute clean water and food. I am in high school and we have a program called AMIGOS de Las Americas. Amigos sends students 16 and up to different developing countries in Latin America so they can work with people in villages. They help people by distributing toothbrushes and helping them brush their teeth to simply get rid of avoidable mouth diseases. If we can get some people to do something like Amigos, but with Haiti alone, then we can make a big improvement to the country. We CAN help fix this outbreak; we just have to DO it.

  8. Grandmaster K October 25, 2010 at 10:08 am - Reply

    As if Haiti didn’t have enough problems. First there was the devastating earthquake, and now there is an outbreak of cholera. I find it surprising that science has not discovered a vaccine for cholera yet. I think the scientists should work on developing a vaccine. In the mean time, the spread of this disease could be prevented by creating an adequate sewage system.

  9. Rams October 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    It’s interesting how Haiti can go from one epidemic to another. First the whole world is racking up donations to help fix things up after the earth quake, and now with the cholera outbreak, it’s like a never-ending nightmare. We really need to get out there and help them, because fi we don’t, this disease could spread and casuse even more damage then we think.

  10. AZ October 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    I think that is it fascinating that Haiti can go from one devastation like an earthquake to a cholera outbreak a couple miles away in such a small amount of time. I feel that we as a country raised a lot of money for relief organizations down in Haiti to help them recover from the earthquake. This outbreak is from the human feces that infested the drinking water in Artibonite. Since this is the reason for the outbreak I think that as a nation we should raise money for clean drinking water for the people. I don’t think it is very reasonable to help treat the people who already have cholera because the hospitals there can help them. I feel like we need to prevent more people from getting it and let Haiti deal with the people who are already sick from it. Sure we can try to raise extra money for trying to help the already sick people but i think most of the money we make, if we choose to donate it, should go to the prevention of anymore cholera breakouts in Haiti.

  11. Thomas901 October 26, 2010 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    i believe this was directly caused by the african UN workers that are in camps along the river in that area. they bathe and deficate all in the river. they are having a bad outbreak in africa as well right now. plus cholera type O1 is a type found in africa. i guess this isnt being reported because of a very reasonable fear of what hatians could do after hearing of this.

  12. Nicolas Day November 1, 2010 at 1:56 am - Reply

    The international community must come forward to help Haiti in fighting with these tragedies and get back to normal life again.

  13. George Bechtol November 4, 2010 at 6:24 am - Reply

    Yeah!! I totally agree with the nicholas that it is the need of the hour to help Haiti standing on its own legs once again. Although it may take some time but we still need to do something.

  14. Kent Marsh November 14, 2010 at 5:47 am - Reply

    What the hell UN is doing in Haiti. They are supposed to act swiftly and they are doing just the opposite of it.

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