By Ambereen Sleemi
Published April 29, 2015
n January 2010, the small island of Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake that hit the capital city of Port-au-Prince in the late afternoon of a busy workday. As the nation tried to grasp the scope of the tremendous loss of life and damage to infrastructure, another tragedy hit. This time, it was not the overt physical assault of the earth moving. It was the microscopic insidiousness of Vibrio cholerae the bacteria that causes cholera, spreading through the community at breakneck speed, ultimately infecting 1.2 percent of the population—over 700,000 individuals—and killing 8,700. Five years later, cholera is still a threat to Haiti’s most vulnerable populations, with over 10,000 new cases reported in the first three months of 2015. Although it is less deadly, it is now endemic—a fact of life in modern day Haiti, even though the country never before had a recorded cholera outbreak.
Dr. Karine Severe is an internal medicine physician with GHESKIO, the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections, a health center set up in the early 1980s to battle the enormous AIDS epidemic that ravaged Haiti. The center has evolved over the decades to become a comprehensive health facility, rising to meet the health challenges of the underserved and impoverished. GHESKIO has become ground zero in the fight to keep the post-earthquake cholera epidemic from engulfing Port-au-Prince. Dr. Severe has a ground-level view of how the cholera epidemic established itself in her home country. Yet, despite the herculean challenges this impoverished island nation has faced, the epidemic came to Haiti by means that were not inevitable. Read the full article.