‘Like a nu­clear bomb,’ cholera and de­struc­tion after hur­ri­cane in Haiti

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Pa­tients ar­rived ev­ery 10 or 15 min­utes, brought on mo­tor­cy­cles by rel­a­tives with vomit-cov­ered shoul­ders and hoisted up the stairs into south­west Haiti’s Port-a-Piment hospi­tal, where they could rest their weak, choleras­apped limbs. Less than a week since Hur­ri­cane Matthew slammed into Haiti, killing at least 1,000 peo­ple ac­cord­ing to a tally of num­bers from lo­cal of­fi­cials, dev­as­tated cor­ners of the coun­try are fac­ing a pub­lic health cri­sis as cholera gal­lops through ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties lack­ing clean wa­ter, food and shel­ter.

Reuters vis­ited the Port-a-Piment hospi­tal early on Sun­day morn­ing, the first day south­west­ern Haiti’s main coastal road had be­come semi-nav­i­ga­ble by car. At that time, there were 39 cases of cholera, ac­cord­ing to Mis­sole An­toine, the hospi­tal’s med­i­cal di­rec­tor. By the early af­ter­noon, there were nearly 60, and four peo­ple had died of the wa­ter­borne ill­ness. “That num­ber is go­ing to rise,” said An­toine, as she rushed be­tween pa­tients laid out on the hospi­tal floor. Al­though there were 13 cases of cholera be­fore Matthew hit, An­toine said the cases had risen dras­ti­cally since the hur­ri­cane cut off the des­per­ately poor re­gion. The hospi­tal lacks an am­bu­lance, or even a car, and An­toine said many new pa­tients were com­ing from miles away, car­ried by fam­ily mem­bers on camp beds.

In­side the hospi­tal, grim-faced par­ents cra­dled young chil­dren whose eyes had sunk back and were un­able to prop up their own heads. “I believe in the doc­tors, and also in God,” said 37-year-old Roo­sevelt Dume, hold­ing the head of his son, Roodly, as he tried to re­main up­beat.

Out on the streets, the scene was also shock­ing. For miles on end, al­most all the houses were re­duced to lit­tle more than rub­ble and twisted me­tal. Col­or­ful clothes were lit­tered among the chaos. The re­gion’s ba­nana crop was de­stroyed with vast fields of plan­tain flat­tened into a leafy mush. With nei­ther govern­ment or for­eign aid ar­riv­ing quickly, peo­ple re­lied on felled coconuts for food and wa­ter. The stench of death, be it hu­man or an­i­mal, was ev­ery­where.

In the vil­lage of Labei, near Port-aPi­ment, lo­cals said the river had washed down ca­dav­ers from vil­lages up­stream. With no­body com­ing to move the corpses, res­i­dents used planks of drift­wood to push them down the river and into the sea.

Down by the shore, the corpse of one man lay blis­ter­ing in the sun. A few hun­dred me­ters to his left in a road­side gully, three dead goats stewed in the toxic slime. “It seems to me like a nu­clear bomb went off,” said Paul Edouarzin, a United Na­tions En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­gram em­ployee based near Port-a-Piment. “In terms of de­struc­tion - en­vi­ron­men­tal and agri­cul­tural - I can tell you 2016 is worse than 2010,” he added, re­fer­ring to the dev­as­tat­ing 2010 earth­quake from which Haiti has yet to re­cover.

Di­ar­rhea-stricken res­i­dents in the vil­lage of Che­va­lier were well aware of the nearby cholera out­break, but had lit­tle op­tion ex­cept to drink the brack­ish wa­ter from the lo­cal well that they be­lieved was al­ready con­tam­i­nated by dead live­stock.

“We have been aban­doned by a govern­ment that never thinks of us,” said MarieAnge Henry, as she sur­veyed her smashed home. She said Che­va­lier had yet to re­ceive any aid and many, like her, were com­ing down with fever. Cholera, she feared, was on its way.

Pierre Moise Monger­ard, a pas­tor, was bank­ing on divine as­sis­tance to res­cue his roof­less church in the vil­lage of Tor­beck. In his Sun­day best - a sports coat, chi­nos and brown leather shoes - he joined a small choir in songs that echoed out into the sur­round­ing rice fields. “We hope that God gives us the pos­si­bil­ity to re­build the Church and help the vic­tims here in this area,” he said, be­fore the mu­sic seized him, and he slowly joined in the chant, clos­ing his eyes and turn­ing his palms up to­ward the sky. —Reuters

HAITI: Vic­tims of cholera re­ceive treat­ment at the state hospi­tal after Hur­ri­cane Matthew, in Jeremie, Haiti on Sun­day. —AP

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