Haiti’s cholera epidemic: will it return in 2021?

August 31, 2021 Gastroenterology & Hepatology No Comments

Cholera is a scourge that has plagued humanity from early times; no era was exempt
at different times in history, and the mere mention of cholera in past generations often
caused panic among susceptible populations. Now with the recent 7.2 magnitude in Haiti,
the question re- emerges: can Haiti’s cholera epidemic return considering the extensive
earthquake damage that has recently occurred. Haiti is prone to earthquakes, due to its
location along a fault line, and over the centuries has encountered numerous earthquakes,
some including the 2010 and 2021 earthquakes of 7.0 or greater magnitude. Cholera has
been around for centuries, and in the last century has caused at least 7 devastating global
outbreaks each claiming thousands of innocent human lives. Cholera infects 1.3 to 4 million
people around the world annually with over 20,000 deaths per year according to the World
Health Organization (WHO) statistics. Cholera is a microbial disease of multiclausal origin
and fecal-oral transmission, where various biological, environmental, social, political
and cultural factors often intervene, thereby presenting complex solutions for what often
becomes a public health issue in the broader community. Over 819,000 Haitians became
ill with cholera during the years following the 2010 earthquake, with nearly 10,000 deaths
reported as a result of one of Haiti’s main waterways accidently becoming contaminated
with the highly infectious cholera organism. Considering the severe damages now being
reported from the August – 2021 earthquake followed by a severe weather outlook, the
potential for a re-emergence of the cholera epidemic may now become a serious public health
threat to the island Nation, including the potential risks to other nearby Island nations in the
Caribbean and beyond should infected carriers relocate to non-earthquake prone localities.
Implementation of effective hygiene measures, including timely medical monitoring and
strategic intervention where indicated will be essential to prevent a resurgence of cholera
or other public health issues in the coming weeks and months aftermath of the destruction
of the roads, structures and public health resources resulting from the recent earthquake in
Haiti.

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