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Friday, December 24, 2010

Cholera in Haiti

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.” — Francis of Assisi

Tonight while my wife and daughter were out finishing some last minute Christmas shopping I happened to catch the Greta Van Susteren show on Fox News. Her entire show was about Haiti and the aftermath of the earthquake and the cholera epidemic that is sweeping the county. Greta was accompanied by Sarah Palin and Franklin Graham, the founder of the Samaritans Purse charity.

At first I did not pay too much attention, but as the show progressed I became more and more drawn into what they were showing and talking about. I was particularly interested in what Sarah Palin had to say about the aid going to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Palin was erudite and well informed and demonstrated a great deal of honest passion and caring for the children suffering from the effects of cholera. In case you don’t know cholera is an infection of the small intestine caused by the bacterium. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission is primarily through consuming contaminated drinking water or food. The severity of the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Primary treatment is with oral rehydration solution and if these are not tolerated intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are beneficial in those with severe disease. Worldwide it affects 3-5 million people and causes 100,000-130,000 deaths a year as of 2010. Cholera was one of the earliest infections to be studied by epidemiological methods.

Haiti has not had an outbreak of cholera for over 100 years. After the 2010 earthquake it is believed that the disease was brought in by United Nations Nepalese Peacekeepers. The Nepalese army has reacted angrily and said there is no evidence to support allegations the cholera emanated from septic tanks at their base in the Artibonite river valley, where the majority of cases and deaths have been. The United Nations has said it will name an international panel to investigate the origin of the epidemic. A team of US and Haitian researchers confirmed last week that the outbreak was likely sparked by a human source from outside the region.

So far there have been over 57,000 cases resulting in 3,000 deaths. The people doing the most to combat the epidemic are the faith based organizations with Franklin Graham’s Samaritans Purse leading the effort. They have set up secure hospitals staffed with volunteer medical staff that is doing a great job at saving lives. They are supplying tents for temporary shelter, sanitation facilities and building materials. Samaritans Purse is also providing over 1 million Christmas packages to the children of Haiti.

Haiti is a political nightmare. The recent elections proved nothing but allegations of fraud and rioting the streets. Right now there is talk of overturning the results of the elections and waiting until the country is more stabilized before calling for another election. In effect there is no central government and the gangs rule the streets of the cities, with Port-au-Prince being the worse. There are nightly murders and lynchings, mainly voodoo priests, and no one’s shelter or belongings are safe. Graham stated that to get his charitable goods through customs his organization had to pay thousands of dollars in bribes.

Most of the international aid has not reached the people and without the efforts of the faith based organizations things would be much worse. Where are Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George Clooney and the rest of his Hollywood cohorts now? The stage lights have dimmed and the dirty work of providing sanitation, medical facilities and shelter is being done by Christian volunteers, not government workers.

The Fox special showed us the wonderful work the Christian organizations are doing at great risk to themselves. They are the ones on the front lines, not the celebrities and politicians. You may say, well, what about Palin, isn’t she a politician? Perhaps she is and this was an opportunity for her to draw attention to herself. Or it was Van Susteren and Fox News that was using Palin to boost ratings? This would be the view of the cynic, wouldn’t it? A wise man told me years ago that a cynic is a person who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. I believe this.

I prefer to not be a cynic. I saw real concern on the face of Palin and good reporting by Van Susteren. I do not have to defend Franklin Graham; his deeds speak loudly for him and his organization.

Palin stated that Haiti needed a great deal of help, but was leery of government to government aid, as it never seems to work its way down the people who need it. She believes, with a great deal of justification, that the faith based organizations will be the ones to best serve the Haitian people. This I wholly support.

Haiti has great potential as an island resort in the Caribbean, but only if it can be governed by a stable, democratic government that can induce business investment. Right now I do not have much hope for the Haitian people.

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