Note to Haiti Vox readers: Yesterday evening I learned that a
colleague, Nancy Dorsinville, was headed to St. Marc. She works with
Partners in Health and with Clinton team. The report below summarizes
what they encountered yesterday. More news later today, Check out the
UN Relief Web and Alert Net (www.alertnet.org) for more updates - AC
Haiti cholera hospital is a horror scene
Date: 22 Oct 2010
22 Oct 2010 10:54:00 GMT
Written by: David Darg
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this
article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the
We woke to disturbing news on Thursday. Our friends at Partners in
Health told us droves of people were arriving at St Marc, sick with
diarrhea, and that they were dying from dehydration at an alarming
rate. The question was clear, could we mobilize to provide clean water
to an area suspected of having Haiti's first major cholera outbreak in
Our staff immediately began loading our trucks with equipment. As we
drove the two hours to St Marc emails on my phone showed the death toll
was climbing steadily. Everyone was nervous.
We arrived at St Marc hospital to a horror scene. I had to fight my way
through the gate as a huge crowd of worried relatives stood outside,
while others screamed for access as they carried dying relatives into
the compound. The courtyard was lined with patients hooked up to
intravenous (IV) drips. It had just rained and there were people lying
on the ground on soggy sheets, half-soaked with feces.
Some children were screaming and writhing in agony, others were
motionless with their eyes rolled back into their heads as doctors and
nursing staff searched desperately for a vein to give them an IV. The
hospital was overwhelmed, apparently caught out suddenly by one of the
fastest killers there is.
Our friend, Cate Oswald, from Partners In Health came out from a triage
tent clutching a hand-drawn map. It showed the local river and the
names of a few communities where the patients had been coming from.
Cate and some of her colleagues led us into the countryside to find the
source of the epidemic.
Soon we were heading down narrow dirt roads with rice paddies and
canals on either side. The crisis had started the day before. Doctors
realized it was getting serious during the night. By then the villagers
had heard of the deaths and word spread quickly not to drink water from
Most people had gone thirsty for hours. The roads were lined with
villagers holding buckets, begging for water. Some larger groups had
set up road blocks and our convoy was forced to stop and explain that
we didn't have water, only equipment to purify water, and that we were
heading to the source of the problem. The villagers reluctantly let us
People were constantly trying to flag us down and pointing to sick
friends and relatives. One group forced us to stop - they had a girl
close to death. PIH staff started her on an IV and placed her in their
vehicle. Her mother, clutching another baby, explained that her husband
had died yesterday and asked us to save her daughter.
We arrived at the place where many of the patients had originated from,
a small dusty community called Babou La Port. Our team set up a water
purification system, which filters and chlorinates, ensuring that any
bacteria or diseases are killed.
As we worked, sick villagers of all ages congregated under the shade of
some large trees. The medical staff placed IVs in some. One, a boy
named Frantz, was brought to us by his grandmother. He was weak and
vomiting. His grandmother was frail and could only point to the river
when we asked her how long Frantz had been ill.
Diarrhea is unfortunately a common problem in this part of the world. A
villager with cholera might lie down on feeling ill, expecting to get
better, and be dead within hours.
Convoys of trucks plastered with the posters of various presidential
candidates drove up and down the dirt roads. Many candidates saw this
as an opportunity to campaign. They were tossing out small plastic bags
of water to the desperate crowds. There were fights for the water and
one man was crushed under a truck in the scuffle.
Our filtration unit fired up and word spread quickly. Soon a sea of
multi-colored buckets surrounded us. There were no cheers and little
laughter; most of the villagers were stunned, afraid and weak. They
were just relieved to have water.
Some of our Haitian staff agreed to stay with the system overnight and
keep it operating. It was a daunting challenge, to stay awake
surrounded by deadly disease and desperate villagers.
Back at St Marc hospital not much had changed, other than the death
toll. As I write, the confirmed toll is 135 and rising with thousands
more infected. There are still patients being carried into the hospital
close to death.
Now however the cries of the mothers are louder and there are even more
people at the gates desperate to hear news of their loved ones. The
hospital is struggling to cope with such a sudden influx of patients,
especially since it is still trying to recover from the January
The scenes at St Marc reminded me of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince
after the quake: patients lying in the streets, doctors struggling to
cope, mass hysteria and fatigue.
On Thursday morning, as the scale of the problem began to emerge, my
friend Dr Koji from Partners in Health shook my hand and said "Let's
stop this". The only way to halt a disease like cholera is to stop
people from getting infected. The hardest hit areas now have access to
safe water, and thanks to people like Dr Koji the sick are receiving
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Posted By poxvox to Haiti Vox at 10/23/2010 12:40:00 PM