Friday, November 19, 2010

Cholera Update

Hey Friend,

Just a note to let you all know that Jenny and Keila and I continue to be blessed with normal health. We continue to take normal precautions to prevent intestinal problems, including, and especially, to prevent a close-encounter with cholera. Please continue to hold us in your prayers, and all Haitians, as they struggle to deal with yet another tragedy.

Cholera, floods, the earthquake, all of these tragedies are caused or affected by poverty and poor governance.

The current cholera epidemic has been magnified by the lack of clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing, as well as inadequate sanitation. The response to stem the epidemic is hampered by poor infrastructure and inadequate medical facilities. The reported death toll may, in reality, be as much as twice as high, according to a conversation Jenny and I had with Chavannes Jean Baptiste, the executive director of MPP (Mouvman Peyizan Papay--Farmer's Movement of Papaye). Because roads are bad, public transportation in many places non-existent and public health centers few, many of the victims never receive any medical assistance and their deaths remain unregistered.

Many efforts are being made to spread information that can help stop the spread of the disease. Messages and information are being broadcast via cell phones and via radio stations about how to prevent and how to treat the disease. But lack of basic education is a problem. With over 45% of the population over the age of fifteen unable to read or write (google: haiti literacy), there are many basic concepts that don't translate easily. What does hand washing mean to someone who knows almost nothing about microbes, viruses and bacteria? Without solid understanding of disease mechanisms, it is also easy for many diseases to be understood as the effects of witchcraft. And witchcraft of course, can only be treated by witchcraft.

A Haitian friend I was talking to yesterday asked why the government wasn't organizing health brigades to go out into the countryside to share information and resources. Wilfrid asked why groups of young people couldn't be going house to house to really give people a sense of the urgency and effectiveness of the methods for keeping themselves healthy--providing, house by house, packages of powdered chlorine for treating the water, and packages of mineral salts for making rehyrdation fluid. National and international agencies are working with the government to treat the sick, but really, only a national effort, coordinated and energized by the national government can have the kind of extensive and profound impact needed to change the underlying causes feeding the epidemic. Haiti does not yet have the kind of people in government that are willing to make that happen.

National elections are a week from Sunday (November 28th). This may not be a good time for elections, but it may be, too, that they will offer the country hope for real change. Keep us in your prayers, keep the people of Haiti in your prayers.

Thank you.

Mark, Jenny and Keila

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