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Cholera deaths in Haiti, Nigeria are not natural disasters

Cholera spreads via poverty and dirty water

Contrary to earlier reports, the cholera outbreak in Haiti is not under control and is likely to spread into the capital Port-au-Prince, which probably means many more deaths and illness.

It is because of the earthquake, which in January devastated much of Haiti, that the world is paying attention to this outbreak.

Cholera spreads via poverty and dirty water
Flickr, Frisno

But the cholera outbreak is not the result of the quake. Rather, the fecal bacteria V. cholerae took advantage of the quake.

Here’s a great story by NPR’s Christopher Joyce from the epicenter of the Haitian outbreak.

There’s been no quake or natural disaster in Nigeria. Yet Nigeria is now experiencing a much larger cholera outbreak that is killing many more people and getting much less attention. There aren’t as many relief agencies and Western journalists in Nigeria.

Cholera is easily prevented and treated. It is prevented through assuring access to clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene or vaccination as a secondary option. It can be treated by antibiotics and a cheap solution of oral rehydration salts (super Gatorade).

So why are so many people dying?

Because they’re poor.

The World Health Organization estimates there are as many as 5 million cases and 120,000 deaths from cholera every year. These outbreaks and deaths usually pass by with little attention. But they are no less tragic than what’s happening now in Haiti, or Nigeria.

Below I’m re-posting a video clip from the “World Toilet Crisis,” which is really what Haiti and Nigeria’s (and most) cholera outbreaks are about.

It’s a fairly entertaining (if also profane! and disturbing) documentary on the root cause of this problem. Seattle-based PATH, the Pulitzer Center and the non-profit global health organization AED are the sponsors of this film, which is having its debut screening today in Washington, D.C.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.