Potential Health Problems After Haitian Earthquake Are Expected

The Haitian earthquake is an unexpected and devastating natural disaster that has hit and is affecting a large number of people. Travelers, locals, businesses, health care, government, and many others have been affected.

Our focus, for good reason, is on the event itself and the resolution and help for victims, survivors, clean-up, and the rebuilding process. The focal point is often on villages for reconstruction, temporary shelters, food, water and supplies. This focus is essential to the region affected.

Outside help is equally necessary. Without the efforts of many the consequences of the earthquake would be many fold worse.

The military, rescue personnel, and volunteers from many countries have arrived and U.N officials are setting up camps and passing out rations of aid that has been flowing into the country for the past few days. But the work of the government, health workers, volunteers and others are at risk.  The infrastructure has fallen in the country and looters are trying to find food, water and shelter. In addition, a local prison in the capital of Port-au-Prince had 4,000 inmates escape and are roaming around the town.

Often overlooked is the health and mental health conditions that remain one week, one month, and even one year after the disaster. This earthquake in Haiti will remind us quickly of the large concerns that are present following an earthquake.  With hours turning into days without proper shelter, food and water the local people will become desperate and increasing looting and problems can be expected to continue.

Lets take a look at the earthquake back in September on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.  Doctors Without Boarders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were still in full force 1 month after the earthquake.

Mental Health

The destruction so absolute of the world you once knew can be devastating for anyone.  The expectation to pick up where you were remains.  The difficulty is the loss of life, home, water, food and “normality” of life.

I worried a lot and had difficulty sleeping during the first two weeks after the earthquake, but I am getting better after a psychological consultation with MSF,” says Novaldi, 29, from Lubuk Laweh near Pariaman.  He lost six family members in the earthquake.

This help may need to be provided for months after an earthquake and is a remarkable and necessary aspect of progression and rebuilding an village or neighborhood.

Health Issues:

Following a Haitian earthquake or other locations, two serious concerns need to be addressed; Water and Sanitation

Without a good plan for bringing in drinkable water into an area can have wide spread consequences.  Most individuals start to begin to suffer side effects from dehydration after 30-36 hours without water. A city or village is very vulnerable to the water system being contaminated.

Often a recommendation is the melting of ice cubes when no other water source is available

Sanitation Standards

Human excreta contains a large amount of germs.  The possibility of increase infections and disease rises dramatically in times of natural disaster.

Often water lines and such become non functioning.  This results in a buildup or concern for sanitation.  Contamination of drinking water, rivers and lakes can occur during rains and other times.

Proper disposal of solid waste and other sanitation materials is essential. In addition hand washing becomes an increase concern as well when locals do not have enough clean running water.  Build-up of sanitation will increase flies and other infectious diseases.

Flies will often then land on nearby food transferring the infection to many others.

Infectious diseases

Often after a severe natural disasters epidemics due to infectious diseases emerges.

This is a potential for a disaster and a high mortality during this period.

Often it depends on type of disaster, location, time of year, and associated rainfall or other weather changes.

Potential Medical Complications:

1.)  Measles
2.)  Viral Hepatitis
3.)  Typhoid fever
4.)  Gastroenteritis
5.)  Coccidiomycosis
6.)  Giardia
7.)  Cholera
8.)  MRSA skin infection
9.)  Malaria
10.)  Dengue Fever
11.)  Yellow fever
12.)  Others

Can we Find Hope?

Currently it is hoped that the earthquake in Haiti will not lead to large problems with infectious diseases, if fact the Associated Press wrote the following:  “Medical experts say disasters such as an earthquake generally do not lead to new outbreaks of infectious diseases, but they do tend to worsen existing health problems.”

But also reported was a concern by the associate director of the UCLA Center of Public Health and Disasters in the same report.  “Haiti’s quake refugees likely will face an increased risk of dengue fever, malaria and measles’ problems that plagued the impoverished country before,” said Kimberley Shoaf.

Our hopes and prayers go out to all those who have suffered severe losses and those who have the means to provide care and hope for those affected.  Let us hope for the best outcome possible

President Barack Obama has promised an “all-out rescue and humanitarian effort”,  he also added that the hope and expected a large U.S. commitment for those in need.

We have to be there for them in their hour of need,” Obama said.


Indonesia: One Month After Earthquake, Focus is on Mental Health  http://doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=4041&cat=field-news

Water Sanitation and Health (WSH) recommendations by the WHO: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/emergencies/javaearthquake/en/index.html

Infectious Complications after Mass Disasters: The Marmara Earthquake Experience  http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a714026034

Bodies piled on streets after powerful Haiti quake  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100113/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/cb_haiti_earthquake

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