In early February, when Jenniflore Abelard* arrived at her parents’ house high in the hills of Port-au-Prince, her father Johnson* was home. He was lying in the yard, under a tree, vomiting. When Jenniflore spoke to him, his responses, between retches, sounded strange: “nasal, like his voice was coming out of his nose”. He talked “like a zombie”. This is a powerful image to use in Haiti, where voodoo is practised and where the supernatural doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it might elsewhere. Her father’s eyes were sunk back into his head. She was shocked, but she knew what this was, because she has lived through the past five years in Haiti. She has lived through the time of kolera.

On 18 October 2010, Cuban medical brigades working in the areas around the town of Mirebalais in Haiti reported a worrying increase in patients with acute, watery diarrhoea and vomiting. There had been 61 cases the previous week, and on 18 October alone there were 28 new admissions and two deaths.

That was the beginning. Five years on, cholera has killed nearly 9,000 Haitians. More than 730,000 people have been infected. It is the worst outbreak of the disease, globally, in modern history. Hundreds of emergency and development workers have been working alongside the Haitian government for five years, trying to rid the country of cholera, and millions of dollars have been dispensed in the fight to eradicate it. But it’s still here. Why?

Areas reporting cholera outbreaks 2010–13. Based on information from WHO. Hispaniola, the island where Haiti is situated, is circled.

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This article is published in collaboration with Mosaic Science. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Rose George is a Contributor at Mosaic Science.

Image: A Haitian family walks on a street in the town of Jeremi in Haiti. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz.