Although outbreaks of infectious diseases have not yet materialized in Haiti, illness and infections are still a threat to survivors, health officials said on Sunday. Doctors are worried that crowded, unsanitary conditions in hundreds of improvised refugee camps could spread illnesses such as typhoid, cholera and measles. With that said, experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross said the basic needs of survivors must be looked after as quickly as possible, such as shelter, safe water and food. Otherwise people will fall ill, often with diarrhea and respiratory infections.
Doctors also fear for the thousands of people who have undergone operations and now need to avoid infection as they recover. "We are talking about thousands of amputations and maybe half of the people who have been amputated have several limbs amputated," Dr. Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told a news conference at Haiti's airport. Many others suffered head and eye damage. "It's not only limbs," she said.
With fewer trauma surgeries as the search and rescue effort winds down, doctors will concentrate on caring for those recovering from injury. "The profile is changing and there are going to be different needs for post-operative care and follow-up," Roses told Reuters.
In disaster situations, young children are among those most at risk, and with a lack of proper nutrition, malnutrition is also a big concern. "In a crisis of this magnitude, our first priority is to reach young children at risk of dying from malnutrition," Lucile Grosjean, a spokesperson for Action Against Hunger in Haiti said in a news release. "Their systems can deteriorate rapidly, so we have to move quickly while respecting everyone's dignity and ensuring their safety." Even before the earthquake struck, malnutrition was one of the leading causes of death in children in the country.
In response to the massive quake, the World Health Organization issued a public health risk assessment document to assist health professionals working with people affected by the emergency in Haiti. Among the priorities is the management and continuity of care for chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB. According to The U.S. Agency for International Development, Haiti has the highest per capita tuberculosis burden in the Latin American and Caribbean region. After HIV/AIDS, TB is the country's greatest infectious cause of mortality in both youth and adults.
It's not just physical scars that have been left in the wake of the January 12 earthquake that killed up to 200,000 and left as many as 3 million Haitians hurt or homeless. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and Fox News contributor said the immediate psychological impact from this kind if event is enormous. "Unfortunately, a catastrophic event like this paves the way for generations of major depression, and for untold numbers of cases of post traumatic stress disorder. This doesn't end in a year or 10 years," he said.
Ablow also said the fallout from this natural disaster could make millions of Haitians vulnerable to severe mood disorders and anxiety disorders. "I think there needs to be a national effort in Haiti with an actual leadership council that would plan to offer healing psychiatric services early when psychiatric symptoms are detected. There needs to be preventative psychiatric health strategies put into place on a national level," he added.
The spread of infectious disease and malnutrition are just a few of the pressing health issues facing the people of Haiti right now as they try pick up the pieces following the catastrophic earthquake that ravaged the Caribbean nation.