Next month marks the seventh anniversary of the cholera outbreak that ravaged Haiti. The disease, which can cause death within hours if left untreated, came less than a year after Haiti was rocked by an enormous earthquake that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions injured, displaced and destitute.
Haiti is prone to earthquakes and tropical storms — the island was spared the worst of Hurricane Irma last week — but the cholera outbreak was an anomaly; the disease had never before struck Haiti. It was brought in, it is widely believed, by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal. One of the world’s most infectious waterborne diseases, cholera spreads quickly and has proved extremely difficult to contain in Haiti. Over 10,000 have died and nearly a million have been stricken to date.
But one organization has managed to nearly eradicate it in a large slum in Port-au-Prince that lacks clean water and sanitation.
One of the game changers that would surprise most people, including global health experts, was actually a building. It wasn’t just any building, but a very intelligently and beautifully designed one: the Cholera Treatment Center, operated by Les Centres Gheskio, an acronym that stands for the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections.
Gheskio, founded in 1982 in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, provides primary care services free of charge to people suffering from tuberculosis, malnutrition, and other life threatening conditions in an area of the Haitian capital that is home to 60,000 Haitians. (Gheskio is a less well-known sister organization of Partners in Health, which focuses on Haiti’s rural population.)