Heartbreak In Haiti: Devastating Cholera Outbreak Cripples The Nation

Haiti, a nation struggling to recover after a devastating summer, has sadly been dealt another blow. Cholera, a disease that feeds off poverty, has slowly begun spreading throughout the nation. The Cholera outbreak, which first began in Haiti's Artibonite River valley in mid-October, was initially deemed contained. Unfortunately, Hurricane Tomas, which struck earlier this month, flooded rivers believed to be contaminated with cholera and submerged refugee communities already struggling to survive. According to officials from the World Health Organization, the death toll as of yesterday was 798, with more than 12,000 people diagnosed with the sickness. Moreover, with the number of new cases growing exponentially, many experts believe that the entire nation of almost 10 million people is at risk - namely because Haiti's citizens have little immunity to the disease. In response, the United Nations has issued a global appeal for resources, asking for more than $164 million in financial aid to support its initial response plan. In a statement released this afternoon, the United Nations noted that they believe Haiti is currently facing one of the most severe Cholera outbreaks witnessed over the past 100 years. Moreover, with more than 200,000 people expected to show symptoms in the coming months - and the nation's medical system inadequately prepared to deal with basic day to day illness - Haiti faces a dire race against time.

While much discussion has focused on the human costs of the outbreak, one often forgotten element is the epidemic's economic impact. For example, when one reviews the base costs of the last major Cholera epidemic, which occurred in Peru in 1992, estimates reveal that Peru lost nearly $700 million in trade and travel revenue in the months following the epidemic. Moreover businesses  - from small family businesses to larger state run organizations - crumbled, increasing poverty and hardship across the nation. While Haiti does not possess the same vibrant tourism or trade sector, it is clear that the Cholera outbreak will significantly impact trade within, as well as travel to, Haiti. Additionally, while the initial $164 million requested by aid agencies will help with the aid effort, this figure pales in comparison to the total aid needed to support the containment efforts. For example, in Peru, the estimated cost of medical supplies and medicines used to stop the Cholera outbreak in March of 1992 was US $44.9 million. Factoring in the increase in drug costs, as well as the increased logistical costs, it is clear that the base drug costs will be significantly higher for Haiti. Moreover, the $164 million requested is not meant to completely cover other significant indirect costs; costs, that will increase as the epidemic spreads. These costs include the cost of physician time, hospital stays, community outreach, production and economic activity foregone by friends or relatives of patients, transportation to health care providers, moving expenses, household costs to accommodate the needs of the affected person, and vocational, social and family counseling services.

While the Haitian people have showed great resilience, it is an understatement to consider the current outbreak "alarming. " To date, Haiti has received only 37.8% of the money that was pledged to it by all countries for 2010-11 following the devastating earth-quake, and has little to no financial reserves available to slow or stop the disease. Moreover, the earthquake devastated the nation's health care system; one, that has not recovered due to delays in aid. Additionally, even with aid coming into the country, many of the most high risk areas - examples being the tent cities of Port-au-Prince - will not directly benefit. Many health officials fear that infection within these slums will spread quickly, accelerated by congested and unsanitary conditions. In many cases, individuals in the slums fail to receive treatment in a timely manner; a concern magnified by the fact the disease, if left untreated, a person can die within hours. Without a doubt, it is clear that this Cholera epidemic is set to unleash a wave of destruction that may dwarf anything we have seen in recent history. With fatality rates rising, and projections estimating that over 200,000 cases could be diagnosed within the next 6 months, the future does not look bright for Haiti or its resilient citizens.