PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti has the highest rate of cholera in the world a mere year after the disease first arrived in the Caribbean nation, a leading health expert said Tuesday.
Dr. Paul Farmer, one of the founders of the medical group Partners in Health and U.N. deputy special envoy to Haiti, said cholera has sickened more than 450,000 people in a nation of 10 million, or nearly 5 percent of the population, and killed more than 6,000.
Farmer told the Associated Press on the anniversary of cholera’s arrival in Haiti that it’s also on the verge of becoming the leading cause of death by infectious disease in the Caribbean nation.
“It’s freakin’ incredible,” Farmer said by telephone. “In 365 days, you go from no cases to the largest number in the world.”
That’s significantly more than the 100,000 to 300,000 cases documented annually in Bangladesh, Farmer said. The Democratic Republic of Congo sees 13,000 to 30,000 cases a year.
Farmer attributes the spread of the disease to what he describes as Haiti’s status as the “most water insecure” country in the world, which means many people have insufficient access to clean water.
Cholera is caused by a bacteria found in contaminated water or food. It spreads quickly in unhygienic environments and can kill people through complete dehydration, but is easily treatable if caught in time.