NPR logo As Death Toll Rises, Experts Say Soap Can Help In Haiti's Cholera Outbreak


As Death Toll Rises, Experts Say Soap Can Help In Haiti's Cholera Outbreak

A Haitian boy stricken with cholera waits with his mother at a hospital in the Cite Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince on November 10, 2010. Thony Belizaire/Getty hide caption

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Thony Belizaire/Getty

The AP reports that the death toll from the cholera epidemic in Haiti is nearing 1,000, with more than 14,000 hospitalized. The Washington Post has a heartbreaking piece, today, in which they report about the importance of soap:

"As hard as it is to believe, Haiti still needs soap. They have many needs, but soap — and access to clean water — is absolutely essential to fight cholera," said Nigel Fisher, the top U.N. humanitarian coordinator, in an interview.

There are plans for more water trucks, and more chlorine in water tanks, wells, and distribution points. But building a modern water and sanitation system will take years. By contrast, experts say, soap is fast and doable, allowing people to clean their hands and food that has been exposed to dirty cholera-tainted water.

The problem is Haitians are forced to chose between buying soap or buying food:

A cake of yellow Haitian soap costs about 50 cents. But many Haitians do not have soap, because they cannot it afford it. More than half of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day...

"They buy food instead," said Gaelle Fohr, a coordinator for hygiene programs in Haiti for the U.N. Children's Fund.