Haiti: A Pathfinder to Post-Earthquake Responses for Environmental and Natural Resources
Haiti's Public Health and Environmental Issues
Compiled by: 2nd year University of South Carolina Law Student Erin Kee.
Widespread poverty means that, even before the earthquake, too few Haitian citizens had access to formal healthcare, and many public health conditions related to Haiti's environmental circumstances. These conditions have worsened since the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
Haiti is known for being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with the majority of the population living below the poverty line. Before the earthquake, less than half of the population had access to health care. This is reflected in the fact that Haiti has the highest prevalence of HIV infection in Latin America and the Caribbean and is the worst epidemic outside of Africa. 4.5% of Haitians test positive for HIV, with the highest instances in women, however, the numbers are beginning to decline very slowly because of aggressive health care reforms that include improved abstinence and contraceptive education. That is not to underestimate the problem though. Problems contributing to this are illiteracy rates, inadequate social services (which fluctuate in proportion to the level of political stability) and the extreme poverty. Certain environmental problems, such as lack of clean water and sanitation due to the poverty in Haiti, result in HIV and other diseases infecting many more people than in countries with more sophisticated structures.
Likewise, the general poverty of the country has long led to problems with food security and associated public health issues. This means that children and adults have suffered from chronic malnutrition, typhoid, and anemia. Flies that have fed on feces and transferred the bacteria as a result of poor hygiene, lack of solid waste disposal and public sanitation spread typhoid. This situation is worsened by the post-earthquake conditions. Poor sanitation and water conditions compound public health problems because once the individual is sick the infected excrement then further pollutes the water when disposed. The poverty also means that many health problems that are treatable in wealthier countries become death sentences in Haiti, specifically Hepatitis B and tuberculosis. Another disease that plagues Haiti is dengue, which is an endemic disease and also life threatening. It is found throughout the country with large percentages in the urban population.
Specific diseases that effect Haiti's children are diarrheal disease, acute respiratory infection and again malnutrition. The acute respiratory infections in child have typically been a result of the poor air quality of the crowded capital, Port-au-Prince. Problems also arise from the tendency to use coal to heat homes. The diarrheal disease is from the children's inability to access clean water, and is increased by the post-earthquake conditions. Likewise, as a result of malnutrition there are problems of severe growth retardation.
The situation in Haiti has been slowing improving since the 1996 decision by the Ministry of Health to recognize a fundamental right to health and acknowledgement of the State's right to guarantee access to health care. The Ministry of Health has defined their priorities as developing primary health care, strengthening health promotion activities, improving environmental health issues (potable water, food hygiene, etc.) and strengthening the Ministry's central and developmental levels. The largest barrier to adequate health care remains the fact that more than three-fourths of Haitian workers are in the informal and agricultural sectors and do not have access to the formal health care provided by the state. Also, providing Haiti with heath care are the numerous nongovernmental organizations from foreign nations. These programs are also successfully providing education to the citizens of Haiti. As a result of the 2010 earthquake, the existing problems are magnified and create an increasing need to control diseases such as tetanus and measles; there had previously not been a measles outbreak since the national vaccination campaign in the early 90's. Also, there is now a need for mental health experts, physical therapists and prosthetics specialists.
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Photo credit: USAID.
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