Haiti at Risk for Disease Outbreaks

BY Talea Miller  January 14, 2010 at 1:49 PM EDT

Treating the injured is still the first priority in Port au Prince, but experts are raising the alarm about the urgent need to address other health issues before it’s too late.

Dr. Tammam Aloudat, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Haiti task force, told the NewsHour outbreaks of disease could quickly exacerbate problems for already overwhelmed emergency health facilities in the coming days and weeks.

“If we allow [disease outbreaks] to happen on a large scale it will be very hard to control,” he said.

Here is what IFRC is watching for:

  • Diarrheal diseases–Contaminated drinking water and a disrupted sanitation system could mean rampant spread of these water-borne illnesses, which can be especially deadly in children. Aloudat says Port au Prince never had a great sanitation system and at this point clean water is nearly impossible to find.

  • Respiratory infections–IFRC staff on the ground are reporting that most people are living outside either because of damaged homes or fears that structures are no longer sound. Exposure to the elements, despite the warm weather in Haiti now, as well as living in close contact with other people makes the population vulnerable to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

  • Measles–Vaccination rate of children in Haiti is poor, said Aloudat, so an outbreak of measles could hit the younger generation hard.

  • Severe malnutrition–Food supply is limited on the ground and people are already competing for those resources. Aloudat warns that if food scarcity continues violence may become a problem as people become more desperate to feed their families.

  • Access to medication–Haiti has a large HIV positive population, about 2.2 percent of the country, and those who were on treatment will lose access to those medications in the coming weeks. Other patients with heart conditions and other chronic illnesses will also start to see medical issues because of discontinuing medication.