AMERICA/HAITI - The chikungunya virus attacks the poor, even the Church is committed to keeping the disease under control
Port au Prince (Agenzia Fides) - The latest scourge in Haiti is chikungunya. It's a rarely fatal but intensely painful mosquito-borne virus that has spread rapidly through the Caribbean and parts of Latin America. Haiti is proving to be particularly vulnerable because so many people live in rickety housing with dismal sanitation and surrounded by ideal breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry the illness.
"Chikungunya has been merciless in Haiti. Lack of basic infrastructure, poor mosquito control measures, and deep social and economic disparities hampered prevention and treatment efforts": says a new report on Haiti's epidemic by the Igarape Institute, a Brazil-based think tank. Since the virus was first documented in Haiti in May, there have been nearly 40,000 suspected cases seen by health workers. The only places with higher numbers are the neighboring Dominican Republic and Guadaloupe.
Even the Catholic Church is committed to keeping the situation under control, by involving priests and faithful to take part in social initiatives, and events organized by the Ministry for Health in order to eliminate receptacles of mosquito vectors of dengue and chikungunya. The President of the Episcopal Conference, His Exc. Mgr. Nicanor Peña, Bishop of La Altagracia, assured the Minister for Health of the total support of the Church.
But there are many signs that the actual number of cases is far higher in Haiti, a country of 10 million people that struggles with many burdens, from crushing poverty, lack of access to clean water and the fact that some 146,000 people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake still live in makeshift homes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is now assisting Haiti's health ministry to confirm new cases. But statistics are notoriously unreliable in Haiti, and public health experts say the number of people with the illness is unknown. Many poor Haitians don't bother seeking care at clinics so their cases go unrecorded, said Dr. Gregory Jerome of Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian program of the Boston-based nonprofit organization Partners in Health. Instances of local transmission have been reported in about 20 nations or territories in the region, from the Virgin Islands, Dominica, Martinique and Puerto Rico to El Salvador in Central America and French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname on the northern shoulder of South America. In Haiti, the situation has gotten so bad so quickly that many people are resigned to catching the virus. There is no vaccine and the only treatment is basic medication for the pain and fluid replacement for dehydration. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 08/07/2014)
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