The searing images of dazed, dusty, injured and suffering earthquake survivors tell only a partial tale of the desperate and growing health need in this stricken country. What the quake survivors need more than anything is water, water, water!
Even before the quake, according to the World Health Organization, one-half of Haiti’s population didn’t have safe drinking water. Half had no access to basic health care, 40 percent suffered from poor nutrition, and up to 75 precent lacked access to proper sanitation. Now, the lack of clean, potable water leaves them vulnerable to dangerous levels of dehydration, infection, respiratory problems and complications from “crush” injuries, said Dr. Jackie.
Dehydration can cause death by shutting down the kidneys. Blood toxicity can lead to shortness of breath, muscle spasms and seizures. The lack of proper sanitation will accelerate the spread of GI diseases like cholera, dysentery and hepatitis. Contaminated water is a breeding ground for mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, problems Haitians struggled with even before the quake.
In addition, all that dust we’ve seen covering quake survivors consists of fine, concrete particles likely to cause lung problems later. It’s a phenomenon seen after the crumbling of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Finally, crushed, broken bones combined with open wounds greatly increases the infection risk; and damaged muscles produce toxins that damage kidneys.
“Many who’ve survived will eventually need prostheses, wheelchairs and nebulizers,” said Dr. Jackie. “However, if they don’t get enough water soon, they won’t need any of those other things.”