Friday, January 15, 2010

Concern over additional health problems in Haiti

Medical and humanitarian aid workers in Haiti are worried that the earthquake could cause an additional health problem in the country. Access to clean water in Haiti is even worse than before the earthquake. People who may resort to dirty water cold help the spread of intestinal diseases.

From this Los Angeles Times story that we found at the Tennessean, writer Shari Roan talks to health professional about what they fear in Haiti.

This time, emergency medical responders will have to provide much more than the usual food, water, latrines and bandages to stop the spread of disease, said Dr. Christina Catlett, associate director for health preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response in Baltimore. They'll also have to create a public health system on the fly.

Haitians are in such desperate need of clean water that there was a stampede Thursday when a rumor spread that water was available, Catlett said.

"My heart absolutely broke when I heard about (the quake)," Catlett said. "Haiti had significant health problems prior to the earthquake: HIV, tuberculosis, severe malnutrition, intestinal parasites, anemia and a host of other problems."

But in Haiti, existing humanitarian support systems, such as the World Health Organization and non-governmental organizations, have been crippled by the disaster.

According to news reports, only one hospital in the city of Port-au-Prince is functioning.

Clean water is the most critical need. Diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and dysentery may emerge if people begin to drink contaminated water.

But food, too, is more crucial than after most disasters. Many Haitians are underweight and won't be able to survive as long without food as a healthy American, Dorian said. Because of existing malnutrition, emergency health responders may need to set up therapeutic feeding stations to care for people who are in danger of starving.

People could even begin to eat contaminated food, making food-borne illness likely.

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