SEATTLE – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez highlights, in part, the ravaging effects cholera had on the Caribbean during the turn of the century. Modern readers in developed countries might think that cholera has been eradicated or that it is a disease for historical fiction, but that simply is not the case. In developing countries with poor sanitation and lack of clean water, cholera still kills.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.” The disease is contracted when a person eats or drinks something that has the bacterium. This happens because of improper sanitation and contaminated drinking water in developing countries.
Contracting the disease is not an automatic death sentence, but without immediate and proper care it is lethal. According to the CDC, “an estimated 3-5 million cases and over 100,000 deaths occur each year around the world” due to cholera. The bacterium moves through a person’s body rapidly and can cause death within hours because of severe dehydration.
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed cholera outbreaks in several African countries, parts of Asia and in the Americas, most notably in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico. Those in the poorest areas where cholera is still an issue are the ones with poor sanitation and contaminated water. They are also the ones that do not have immediate access to the medical care that saves lives once the disease is contracted.
In the WHO report, the Americas recorded 47 percent of the world’s cholera cases, with the most being reported in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Africa recorded 43 percent of the cholera cases. Those are the percentages of the 129,064 cases reported to WHO; the actual number of cases is probably much higher since not every case is reported to the organization.
What can be done to stop cholera? Trying to eradicate the disease through preventative measures is the best way to stop the disease from killing others. Two vaccines are available, but they should not be relied upon. Cholera can simply be eliminated through access to clean water and proper sanitation.
Unfortunately, clean water is actually becoming harder to get for those in the poorest countries. The CDC has a program called Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), which reports that “various factors influence this deterioration [of clean water], including population growth, rapid urbanization, land use, industrial discharge of chemicals, and factors resulting from climate change.”
Without proper sanitation and clean water, millions of people are at risk of contracting deadly diseases including cholera.
Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source. Many more obtain their drinking water from improved, but microbiologically unsafe, sources. In addition, an estimated 2.5 billion people — half of the developing world and more than 35 percent of the world’s population — lack access to adequate sanitation.
The United States can be engaged when it comes to stopping cholera deaths. U.S. State Department of State and USAID budget states that the budget “reflects a comprehensive and integrated global health strategy toward achieving an AIDS-free generation and ending preventable child and maternal deaths.” Cholera is a preventable death with known causes and proven ways to prevent the disease. If the U.S. funds more prevention and treatment tactics instead of cutting the budget, this goal can be put into action against cholera and lives can be saved.
By enacting more preventative measures to help the poorest people with the most basic needs of clean water and proper sanitation, the descriptors of cholera that are described in Love in the Time of Cholera will finally be an issue of the past, reserved for fiction, rather than a killer of the present.
– Megan Ivy