Wracked by diarrhea, Emmanuel Losier was surprised at what he found when, after two hours on foot, he finally reached the closest cholera treatment center to his central plateau home: plenty of empty beds and Cuban doctors he could not communicate with.
“Without them, the whole country would have been destroyed by now,” Losier said, an IV strapped to his arm and a bucket at his side. “They seem to have a real interest in helping us. I hope they stay.”
Losier was treated last month by Cuba’s medical brigade, a corps of nurses and doctors who experts here say are among the leading health care providers in Haiti’s battle against cholera. He and about a dozen critically ill patients were under a large white tent beside a Mirebalais diagnostic center, which is a joint operation between Cuba, the Haitian Health Ministry, Partners in Health and the University of Miami’s Project Medishare.
As the death toll surpasses 4,000, Haiti is still struggling against challenges of a disease the country had not experienced in 150 years. In rural villages, doctors are often difficult to find. Some urban treatment centers have lots of beds but few patients. Many earthquake displacement camps still lack clean water and toilets, even as some aid groups begin to scale back water chlorination programs. With the epidemic entering its fourth month, the United Nations’ $164 million appeal for cholera funding remains less than half-filled.
The international community and major aid organizations came under scathing criticism when the disease swept the countryside in October. Doctors Without Borders blasted “one of the largest and best-funded international aid deployments in the world” for failing to stop the spread of the deadly illness despite vast resources. While many critics found fault with the international community’s response to the raging disease, experts agreed that the Cuban medical brigade quickly filled a critical gap in a country where the death rate is still twice the accepted average.
“The Cuban delegation are unbelievable workhorses,” said David Walton, deputy director of Partners in Health, a Boston-based medical aid organization. “They are very savvy and not afraid to get their hands dirty.”
While the United States poured more than $45 million in supplies and expertise into Haiti’s cholera epidemic, cash-strapped Cuba provided human resources. The brigade is part of a decade-old medical diplomacy program Cuba uses to sow goodwill around the world, which critics argue is aimed at deflecting attention from human rights abuses.
To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.