So we are now into the third year of a completely needless epidemic that has sickened some 600,000 of Haiti's ten million, and killed at least 7,500 of them. Cholera is now endemic to the island of Hispaniola, and the subject of a ten-year project to eradicate it—a hard way to launch a jobs program for public-health experts and sanitary engineers.
It's a truism among novelists that stress reveals character. If so, the stress of cholera has shown ordinary Haitians as people of stoic endurance, ruled (better said, presided over) by an elite who would rather not discuss the subject.
Perhaps taking their cue from that elite, Haiti's local media report rarely on cholera; they don't even pick up the MSPP cholera statistics, such as they are, and they rarely even cover whoever happens to be the current minister of health. Foreign media reported the early days, but few are now on the ground; when they do file reports, they stick to the Poor Haiti script.
MINUSTAH, the UN semi-government of Haiti, is deep in denial about the origins of cholera, as is the UN itself and its health agency PAHO. Since PAHO is a subordinate of the World Health Organization, the stress of cholera has run right up to the top of the ladder and found everyone wanting.
In the early days of the outbreak I followed various NGOs as they swarmed into the country, their SUVs full of eager young bloggers and tweeters glad to tell the world of the good they were doing. The stress got to them, too, or at least the stress of burning through their funding while cholera spread despite their efforts. They're mostly gone now, leaving the field to the old pros like Partners in Health and MSF, plus a handful of groups like the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who lobby for some kind of redress for the infliction of cholera on people already suffering.
The Cuban medical brigades provided an interesting view of the disaster. The stress of cholera seemed to bring out the best in the Cubans. They had been there since before the earthquake, working effectively all over Haiti, and they were the first to report the cholera outbreak. Most of the foreign media ignored the Cubans' contributions, but they did a good job of promoting themselves.
That image was severely damaged this summer when cholera broke out in Cuba itself, and only a few dissidents reported on it. (Calixto Martínez, who did most of the reports, is currently in jail, but another story appeared today and I'll post about it shortly.)
Obviously thousands of Haitians and outsiders continue to fight cholera, but they are rarely seen or heard by the world beyond their hospital tents. One splendid exception is Dr. John Carroll, whose photos and blog posts have borne witness, in both the literal and the Christian sense, to Haiti's sorrows. (His reports stress me, exposing me as far angrier about cholera than I like to admit.)
And what else has the stress of Haiti's cholera done to me over the last two years? It's taught me a lot the roots of cholera in poverty, and the roots of poverty in the policies of the rich nations. Those nations prefer the Poor Haiti narrative, with the Haitians as hapless bystanders to their own lives, rather than as capable people overpowered by outsiders. Cholera is just another reason to patronize the Haitians a problem to be solved rather than deal with them as a solution.
Covering Haiti has also encouraged me to keep doing it. The MSPP's doubtful cholera numbers are maddening. PAHO's apathy, and the UN's denial, are shameful. But as long as I can find some kind of reasonable reports on cholera and Haiti's other public health problems, I'll keep posting on them.