A serious outbreak of cholera continues to grip Haiti, with more cases reported daily and a rising death toll. Relief efforts face serious problems such as widespread poverty, lack of safe water and sanitation services, and victims’ lack of access to rapid clinical evaluation and treatment, particularly in rural areas. The situation is serious and has drawn attention and assistance from nations around the world.
As the Haitian Health Ministry works to attack the outbreak and the conditions that allow it to spread, some have suggested restricting travel to and from Haiti to prevent it from reaching other countries. Given the nature of the disease, however, such steps would not limit its spread and are unnecessary.
Thomas C. Adams, the U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti working on relief and reconstruction, including post-earthquake assistance and the cholera outbreak, notes that a process to screen possible cholera victims wouldn't work. An estimated two out of three people who contract the waterborne disease show no symptoms of it until they are too sick to travel.
People who left the island nation for the United States and were subsequently diagnosed with cholera have received treatment and recovered. Because of sanitation systems in the U.S., the disease did not spread. Haiti’s neighbors also have good sanitation systems and can limit the spread of the disease, too.
But the challenges Haiti faces in fighting the cholera outbreak are real. The United States is continuing to work closely with Haitian government health officials and international organizations and NGOs to provide the supplies, medical assistance, education and prevention training, and financial aid to see them through the crisis.