Haiti: The Two Epidemics / Miriam Celaya

Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Photograph from the Internet

The media have been reporting the alarming growth of the cholera epidemic that is spreading through Haiti. It began soon after hurricane Thomas hit that very poorest of nations. Each new piece of information tells us of a constant progression in the number of infected and who dead are from the disease, and already cases are being reported in the Dominican Republic –- natural geographic heir of this and other types of Haitian diseases — and they are even talking about one case in Southern Florida, USA.

On another front, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, in its Sunday, November 21st edition, has just published the total number of Cuban health support personnel found there: 689 in total, including doctors, nurses, health technicians and staff service. This newspaper further adds that 530 of them work full-time on the cholera epidemic, and, so far, have treated 22,123 people, with 253 deaths. Simultaneously, informal rumors by people linked to the Public Health sector in the Island, as well as family and friends of the Cubans who are part of these hundreds of workers, claim that — in addition to the risk of contagion — there is the additional danger that flows from living every minute in the vortex of social cataclysm because, in Haiti, along with the current cholera epidemic, extreme violence coexists, exacerbated by the earthquake last February with its tragic aftermath of destruction, ruin and misery, which worsened after the recent hurricane and the outbreak of the epidemic.

Thus, there are two epidemics involving Haiti these days: cholera and violence. This last one — unleashed since 1791, with its bloody revolution, echo and parody of the French Revolution of 1789 — has been nourished by death, anarchy, despotism and destruction over two centuries, and ended in making the former thriving French colony a lamentable and permanent ruin. Haiti, in its secular poverty, is a paradigm of the work of social revolutions dressed in “liberation.” Not by chance, it is said that we are fraternal nations.

The foreign media gives an account of the numerous groups of Haitian vandals that commit assaults and other criminal acts against groups of UN assistance and other civilians, whom — in their crass ignorance — they consider responsible for the actual epidemic and for the “insufficient aid”, as if the extreme hygienic sanitary conditions were not the result of the brutal lack of culture and backwardness that make this country the poorest and most unhealthy in this hemisphere, or if the whole world had the obligation to assume the consequences of the barbarian state in which these people have subsisted throughout their turbulent history.

The note published in Juventud Rebelde is sparse and inadequate, the kind that abounds in our official press and often leaves us with more questions than answers. We do not know to what extent the Cuban health joint forces are safe in the midst of the epidemic, surrounded by violence, confusion and hatred generated by a people’s hunger, disease and helplessness. Nor do we have any information about plans that the authorities should have regarding their return to Cuba, the security arrangements that might have been taken to preserve their lives or whether necessary conditions of isolation and quarantine have been undertaken to keep under care and observation those who return from Haiti.

Experience has shown us that, when it comes to politics, the government ignores such trivial details as the integrity of our health. We have examples — sadly numerous, by the way — of how the “solidarity” of the revolution has led to the entry of diseases once eradicated or simply unknown to Cubans: AIDS, imported in the 80′s thanks to the military campaign in Angola, as well as dengue and hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, introduced later as a result of hasty programs or health “missions” that brought hundreds of people (vectors) from the most remote parts of Latin America’s geography to Cuban soil in a matter of hours, without any kind of sanitary control. We have also recaptured tuberculosis, currently on the dramatic increase on the Island, just to cite the best known examples of the collateral benefits brought to us by the ill-interpreted and even worse-applied official solidarity that embark on health programs generated by populist politics and interests that have nothing to do with altruism.

Let’s hope that, this time, the alarm is without foundation; that our doctors return as soon as possible from Haiti, safe and sound, and that the terrible cholera epidemic won’t prey on the Cuban population too. Presumably, the Island’s authorities will avoid a new misfortune at all costs that will further complicate the somber panorama that lies before us. It would be best for everyone.

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 23, 2010