I have been refraining from writing about my opinion on the cholera in Haiti, partly because I have been worried that I might be off on my conclusions. The other reason for not wanting to write my concerns is because they make them all that more real to me. Well, I am going to step outside my comfort zone and am going to dive into it anyways, take from it what you will.
I believe that getting cholera under control in Haiti is going to be next to impossible. I have walked the rural market place, I have ridden through the rural towns, and I have lived with the rural families. In short I have experienced how the rural and not so rural Haitians live. Because of this experience I am highly concerned about the cholera lasting for years in Haiti and the death toll being extremely high. I fear everyday that a phone call will come that tells me one of my friends in Haiti has died.
My market experience has been in the market in Cabaret, though I am told it is a very typical market. The market place is filthy; you’re walking on all matter of filth: plastic products, feces, and old rotted food. The food items for sale are uncovered, un-refrigerated and laden with flies; meat, grains, and produce are all affected. All these items sitting out in 95 degree heat. This practice has been in place for hundreds of years. A person, my self included, purchases meat that is covered with flies, the seller handles the meat with bare hands and places it in a bag, you’re then handed the bag, you hand the seller the payment and wait for your change, which is handed to you with the same hands that handled the fly covered un-refrigerated meat. Hands are not washed, not even wiped off in this process. Another person will approach you in the market, they are selling books. These books have been handled hundreds of times a day. Who has touched these books? Were their hands clean? Did you wash your hands after handling those books? Chances are you didn’t. Your thirsty, you have been walking through the market place in 95 degree heat. So you buy some water to drink. More likely then not this water is in a sealed plastic bag, it may even say “bon dlo” (good water). You will put a corner of this bag in your mouth and bit of a piece, this piece of plastic you will spit on the ground. You then put about ½ inch of the bag in your mouth and suck and squeeze the water into your mouth. Who has handled that plastic bag that you just placed in your mouth. For sure their hands were not washed and that bag was certainly not wash before it went into your mouth. Keep in mind that during this water transaction, more filthy money is handed back and forth.
Running along a large amount of roads in Haiti are water channels. Either side of the channel are concrete of rock barriers. During the dry season you can see all the trash that has been washed into and thrown into them. This source of water is used for multiple uses right on the spot: laundry washing, body washing, and the washing of trucks and motorcycles just to name a few. This water is also used for freezing into blocks, which people then buy to put in coolers as refrigeration. Water is drawn from these channels and carried to homes to wash dishes with, cooking and yes, for drinking. The water in these channels comes from all over the place. Down the mountain sides, washed in from the road and from rain. This water is far from clean in appearance and who knows what germs it carries.
The typical Haitian family has done the same things for hundreds of years. Washing dishes with channel water and sand, buying the raw non-refrigerated meat and showering in the water. Those who can afford to purchase water for cooking, bathing, and drinking. In the village of Bercy, with the exception of the Habitat for Humanity Village and a few other families, water is a huge problem. When you can barely afford to feed your family the expense of water puts you over the edge. When you don’t even have a roof over your head due to the earth quake, the expense of water is to much, when you can’t afford to dress you child, much less wash the clothes, you can’t afford to by good drinking water. These people can’t even afford to buy bleach to add to the water that they do have, that is if you could get them to understand and change their habits so that they are using the bleach.
Haitians move around a lot. I don’t mean that they move from house to house, but that they go and visit. I know several families in Bercy that travel 2 hours on Sundays to attend church in the village they grew up in. People have to travel in to larger villages for supplies that can’t get at home. People converge on Cabaret on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with their goods to sell and to purchase, only to converge on Archiea on Wednesday and Friday for the same reasons. These two large “cities” are both along Route 1 National and are about ½ an hour apart via car. People travel by foot, horse or donkey, motorcycle and tap tap to get their goods to market. The motorcycle could transfer some germs, but the tap tap is a germ swapping machine. Tap taps are a pickup truck with a curved metal rook over the back, with wooden benches running down both sides of the bed of the truck. People are practically on each others laps, peoples purchases in bags and the bags are covered with God only knows what. People swap germs in person to person contact, the germs are left on the wooden seats and metal sides only to be picked up by the next person. Through these tap taps germs are spread all over the country.
So how do you change all of these habits? How do you teach people, people who might be illiterate. The Haitian Health Ministry had started putting up flyers and banners when I was there the beginning on November. But, what good will these do if people do not have a choice in what there are doing in order to survive? Who is capable of cleaning up the market place? Who is going to provide the refrigeration, the rubber gloves, and the hand sanitizer? I think they would have police the market. If the vendors had to make these changes, they would have to charge the customers more, customers who can barely afford to buy now. Who is going to bleach the produce, plastic bag of water and the tap taps. Who is going to provide clean water to everyone so that people do not need to drink channel water? I can tell you who wont be doing it; the Haitian government and the poor citizens of Haiti. I also don’t see other countries doing it, first of all I am not sure it is their place to do so, but they have also not come through with the money they promised after the earth quake I wouldn’t depend on them for this.
I feel like I haven’t given more than the tip of the iceburg here, and that to me is scary! What to me is scarier is that I think that this dreadful killer will have to run its coarse.
In the 1770’s a small pox eradicates at least 30 percent of the native population on the Northwest coast of North America including numerous members of Puget Sound tribes. This apparent first smallpox epidemic on the northwest coast coincides with the first direct European contact, and is the most virulent of the deadly European diseases that swept over the region during the next 80 to 100 years. In his seminal work, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, historian Robert Boyd estimates that the 1770s smallpox epidemic killed more than 11,000 Western Washington Indians, reducing the population from about 37,000 to 26,000. – http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File_Id=5100
European diseases spread plague after deadly plague across the land. In a period of 130 years, something like 95 percent of all Native Americans died of disease. That number is far greater than experts (until recently) had ever suspected. – http://www.youmeworks.com/why_native_americans.html