Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Haiti in the Time of Cholera

Here in the United States, we all continue to hear news out of Haiti - cholera, Hurricane Tomas, and elections. Our Farmer to Farmer staff and volunteers who have recently been in Haiti during the past month are all doing well. As we follow the news and developments closely, they send reports directly from Haiti.  Sometimes the local reports vary slightly from what is portrayed by the international media.

Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak checks rabbit body condition in Haiti
We thought you would enjoy reading some excerpts from the blog of Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak (see below), a repeat FTF volunteer and veterinarian who is currently in Haiti. She, along with the Farmer to Farmer staff and members of Makouti Agro Enterprise, are in the middle of a "whirlwind tour" of Haiti, where so far they have given trainings in at least 9 villages that are just starting rabbit production projects. The goal was to set up 220 new cages and train 400 new producers. Their stop in Cap Haitien may have delayed their travels some, but they are eager to continue with the plan.

Everyday the word cholera is spoken at least a half dozen times in my presence. It stands out as a chilly word with a sharp edged and is nearly always followed by laughter. Here in the northern part of Haiti, we have yet to run into a case, but the rumors and jokes abound. Anyone who goes to the hospital or dies is said to have cholera. Several of the villages I taught in had rumors of a child who had died of cholera the day before, but the stories were so similar that it felt like the proverbial little brown dog that follows newcomers everywhere they go in Haiti.“There’s that dog again. How did it find us here?” Laughter is thankfully the best medicine and a delightful cultural bridge. 90% of village dogs are “Little Brown Dogs.”

I have noticed that people are pretty serious about hand washing before they eat ... It has become a tradition with my colleagues that I bring Chlorox wipes with me. It’s a habit I have since I handle sick animals regularly with contagious diseases like mange. They’re in big demand this trip and you can even find them in the local market.
I wrote the above paragraphs less than two days ago. Today is the 13th of November .... I still can’t confirm any cases of cholera in the Northern departments but news is vague. Its confirmed in Port au Prince and Gonaives and of course in the Artibonite Valley where it started. The number of deaths is 720 so far but rising. Epidemiologically this makes sense since we are a week after the hurricane and now through the incubation period for those infected during the flooding and storms. Thankfully the rains have stopped and the sun is shining bringing with it the disinfectant power of the sun and drying up the flooded streets. Lets hope…

I taught a basic rabbit course today in Grand Riviere with two of my colleagues. It was our first time teaching together as a team. When people heard that I knew about cholera I was asked to speak to the group and answer questions. By the time I was finished explaining the epidemiology, ways to prevent infection, treatment etc. it hit me. While I had made them feel some relief and a sense of control of the unknown future I was left with the collective heavy weight of fear and pain that we all carry. We have not yet healed from the losses and the pain of January 12th nor are we ready to take on another challenge of unknown proportion. I explained that cholera would never reach the magnitude of 230,000 dead in 35 seconds nor even the impact of AIDS but that seems little comfort at this time.

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