Why Americans Should Care Deeply About Cholera in Haiti

Dr. Jon K. Andrus, Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization, gave a press briefing yesterday on the cholera epidemic in Haiti. It is among the scariest things I have read so far about the cholera outbreak.

So far, there have been nearly 600 reported deaths and over 8,000 people have been hospitalized. But that is only the figures that have been officially reported. Chances are, the real infection rates are higher.   The epidemic has now firmly spread to Port au Prince, where Andrus said  conditions are “very ripe for rapid spread of cholera.”

And Cholera will not go away anytime soon. In fact it will be around for years, and likely spread. Even, to North America.

“We have to prepare for a large upsurge in cases,” Andrus said. “We have to be prepared with all the resources that are needed for a rapid response.”

The last cholera epidemic in the Western Hemisphere began in Peru in 1991 and spread to some 16 other countries, from Argentina to Canada. In Peru alone, the epidemic produced more than 650,000 cases over six years.

Adjusting for population size, a similar pattern would produce upwards of 270,000 cases in Haiti, Andrus said.

This is going to get much worse before it gets better.  There are large Haitian diaspora populations in major cities like Miami, New York, Boston and Montreal so it is in all Americans’ interest to keep this contained–not to mention the interest of the millions of Haitians now living under threat of cholera.