Miami Doctors In Haiti Race To Fight Cholera Outbreak

The University of Miami/Project Medishare hospital in Port-au-Prince is mobilizing to help contain a fast-spreading disease

Doctors from the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine were the first to arrive in Haiti following a devastating January 12 earthquake, operating on survivors in horrifyingly primative conditions at a field hospital erected near the Port-au-Prince airport.

Now they and Project Medishare, founded by UM's Drs. Barth Green and Arthur Fournier, are racing to fight a growing cholera epidemic that threatens to become a severe crisis in the unsanitary conditions in central Haiti.

Hospitals in the Artibonite River region have reported 208 deaths and 2,364 people sickened, and yesterday the Haitian government confirmed the river, its dominant drainage system running down from Haiti's central plateau, tested positive for the disease -- a severe diarrheal illness transmitted through fecal contamination that is especially dangerous among children and the elderly.

Those infected can become too quickly dehydrated, go into shock, and die within hours. The UM doctors at the hospital in Port-au-Prince are scrambling to inventory their supply warehouse to see what can be given to the Haitian government.

Most critical, said Dr. Fournier, are "oral rehydration therapy" packets consisting of salt and sugar. When mixed with uncontaminated water, the solution can rehydrate a patient without the use of an IV.

The group is also sending cots for hospital beds and bleach for disenfecting human waste and the hands of medical staff.

"We need more," Dr. Fournier told the Miami Herald of the rehydration packets. "We probably need more of [the bleach], too."

Project Medishare's country director Marie Chery said the organization is using the local radio station to urge residents to treat or boil drinking water.

“We are distributing liquid bleach, hand soap, and oral rehydration packets," she said.

The Artibonite region wasn't directly affected by the earthquake, but many refugees from Port-au-Prince fled there when the city was destroyed, and conditions have long been unsanitary. Making the problem worse is that two major roads travel through the disease-infected area, threatening to carry the virus to the rest of the country.

"Haiti's squalid public sanitation is going to be a big problem,'' Fournier said. "Hopefully [the outbreak] will refortify efforts to rebuild the infrastructure so we don't face these crises every several months.''

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