Illinois human services worker Brent DeLand says Haitians are “running scared” as they try to cope with a cholera epidemic that has claimed at least 1,415 lives since the outbreak began Oct. 19.
“Cholera is a bad disease, but it’s exacerbated by fear like I’ve never seen by the people before,” said DeLand, president of the board of directors of the Haitian Development Fund, who returned Nov. 21 from his most recent trip to the impoverished island nation. “People don’t understand it.”
DeLand, who first volunteered in Haiti in 1996, said confusion about the disease is widespread. That’s because Haiti has not had an outbreak of the waterborne disease in 50 years.
The first cases were reported in central plateau of Artibonite department. The Haitian health ministry has reported more than 23,000 hospitalizations from the illness. The actual amount of people affected, including deaths, is likely much higher, according to the United Nations, because information from rural areas are impossible to collect.
DeLand found Haitian medical staff in Sarthe, a community northeast of the capital of Port-au-Prince where the fund supports a medical clinic, unsure of how to treat the disease and how it spreads.
Cholera can kill a person within hours of the onset of symptoms because of dehydration. The trouble is that symptoms may not be apparent for several days. The disease can be treated with fluids and antibiotics. People who receive treatment quickly usually survive.
During his weeklong visit, DeLand and his Haitian colleague, Dr. Moise Cely, clinic director, treated just one person suffering from the disease. The victim, a woman, was stabilized and taken to a nearby hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. She had been carried to the clinic by relatives from her home about a mile away.
The clinic earlier had treated one other cholera patient, said DeLand, whose regular job finds him serving as assistant chief of the bureau of research and analysis for the Illinois Department of Human Services.
The disease has reached eight of Haiti’s 10 departments and the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the former French colony.
“People are scared for a good reason,” said DeLand, a member of Christ the King Parish in Springfield.