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Haitian President Says Up To 300,000 People Could Have Died In Quake

The major earthquake in January in Haiti could have killed as many as 300,000 people, an estimate that includes bodies buried in the rubble, Haitian President Rene Preval said on Sunday at a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Mexico, Reuters reports.

“More than 200,000 bodies were collected on the streets without counting those that are still under the rubble,” Preval said. “We might reach 300,000 people” (Rosenberg, 2/22). “Speaking after arriving in Mexico for regional meetings that will include discussion of Haitian aid needs, Preval gave no indication of how he reached the figure,” the Associated Press/Washington Post writes. The government’s previous estimates put the death toll between 170,000 and 230,000 (2/21).

News outlets examined the ongoing health challenges in Haiti.

The Wall Street Journal examines how poor housing conditions are fueling the spread of diseases. “Health-care experts say conditions in the crowded tent communities that sprang up after the Jan. 12 disaster are exacerbating cases of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. When the rainy season begins in May, those types of illnesses will grow more quickly. Weather is a fresh concern, joining disease, security, food, overcrowding and other woes for the makeshift communities,” the newspaper writes.

The article looks at one of the worst hit areas and includes quotes from people involved with aid on the ground. The article also notes that “[a] number of preventive interventions are under way, such as a vaccination campaign by the Haitian government. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also is compiling an epidemiology report that will track occurrences of unusual events in the health field and regularly publish alerts of emerging trends” (Luhnow/Dugan, 2/19).

A lack of sanitation and ways to deal with human waste could spread diseases and lead to “major disease outbreaks, including cholera,” the New York Times reports. “Some American and Haitian public health specialists here consider the diseases stemming from the buildup of human waste in the camps as possibly the most pressing health threat in the city. Doctors are already seeing a spike in illnesses like typhoid and shigellosis, which arise from contaminated food or water.” The article also reports on how aid groups are trying to address the problems (Romero, 2/19).

The Boston Globe reports that as the rainy season draws near, “[a]id workers are warning that 1.2 million people left homeless by the powerful Jan. 12 quake still lack basic shelter and latrines, putting them at high risk of flash floods, mudslides, and diseases such as typhoid and malaria. … After the rain, Haiti will face new problems, as puddles become breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread malaria, dengue fever, and other illnesses, said [Robert] Tauxe, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, clean water and sanitation are major concerns. If safe drinking water and latrines are unavailable, people could be exposed to fecal-contaminated water and contract diseases such as dysentery, hepatitis A, or typhoid, he said” (Sacchetti, 2/20).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.