Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cholera in The Bahamas: ... reminds us again that the shantytown problem in The Islands is a ticking time bomb

Shantytowns and cholera

thenassauguardian editorial

It was inevitable that there would be cases of cholera in The Bahamas.  There was an outbreak of the disease in Haiti in late 2010 that continues.  Thus far, there have been around 600,000 reported cases and 7,500 deaths in that country from the disease.

The Ministry of Health yesterday confirmed a case of cholera in The Bahamas.  A patient was evaluated at Princess Margaret Hospital on October 18 due to symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.  Laboratory tests confirmed the disease on Monday and the person has since recovered, according to the ministry in a statement on the incident.

The Ministry of Health also said there are no other reported cases of cholera in The Bahamas.

“The Ministry of Health continues its heightened surveillance activities and other necessary precautions to identify cases and prevent the transmission of cholera in The Bahamas,” it said.

“The public is reminded to use clean water, wash hands regularly and otherwise maintain good hygienic practices to prevent cholera from developing and spreading.”

Cholera is a bacterial disease that causes dehydration and diarrhea.  It is mostly spread through the ingestion of contaminated food or water.  Water can be contaminated by the feces of an infected person or by untreated sewage.  Water containing cholera bacteria can contaminate food.  Food can also be contaminated if handled by a person sick with cholera.  Cholera can be deadly.

This confirmed case comes one year after a case of cholera was confirmed when a Haitian immigrant, who contracted the infection, entered the country on a sloop.  He was quickly treated and repatriated.

The Bahamas has a large Haitian population and many undocumented people who travel from Haiti to our country.  Because of the regular flow of people to The Bahamas from that country, there is a strong likelihood that troubles there would spill over to here.

What could make the situation dangerous for The Bahamas is that we have so many shantytowns across the country.  Dozens exist in New Providence.  Large ones exist in islands such as Abaco.  In these communities the conditions are often unsanitary with no indoor plumbing and the indiscriminate dumping of human waste in nearby bushes.

Many Bahamians and Haitians still use untreated groundwater – if this water supply is contaminated by cholera bacteria that would be disastrous in this small country.  We have been too permissive over the years with these illegal communities.  They have grown so large and are so many now that it is a political issue to remove them.

If our politicians want to keep them as they are, it is necessary for the government to ensure that sanitary conditions exists in these places so that a major public health crisis does not emerge.  These people cannot be allowed to live in any manner they choose because the issue of their presence is “too difficult” for our elected officials to handle.

A major cholera outbreak could lead to significant loss of life in The Bahamas and significant damage to our economy.  Who wants to visit a country where cholera is a major problem?

Of course, we are not there yet.  And we hope that this is just an isolated case.  But it reminds us again that the shantytown problem in The Bahamas is a ticking time bomb.  They should not be ignored.

Oct 31, 2012