infectious disease

Treatment in the Time of Cholera

Last summer I had the opportunity to conduct research with Tufts’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department on cholera in drinking water in rural Haiti. Nearly six years ago, when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country, Haiti was on the front page of every news source. Once the crisis abated and the country lost the limelight, international aid and attention plummeted. Still, in the months after the earthquake, cholera– an infectious disease spread through water– appeared in the country for the first time in a hundred years, brought in by foreign aid workers trying to help. It remains, now endemic, in the country to this day.

The thing about cholera is that is entirely treatable. If, say, I had contracted the disease while I was there last May collecting samples, I would have been transported to a hospital either in Port-au-Prince or Miami, rehydrated and maybe given some antibiotics, and I would have been fine. Untreated, however, it can kill in a matter of days. Furthermore, because the disease works by flushing all liquid out of the body, any water contaminated by the excrement of the diseased will then spread the cholera even further.

This was the case in Haiti. Because of the lack of infrastructure, the idea of waste water treatment or a centralized water system of any sort is entirely unheard of in the country, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake. Instead, in the rural areas where my research was focused, communities get their water primarily from wells and open sources called canals that irrigate the fertile Artibonite Valley. Once the Artibonite River, the main artery of Haiti, was contaminated, so was every canal in the valley. The disease spread like wildfire.

While cholera has been a chronic issue in Haiti for the past six years, it has recently popped up in outbreaks around the world. The tragedy of this sickness continues: in a world with the medical knowledge and technology ours has today, people are still dying from something as treatable as cholera. All you need to survive is clean water, something that is incredibly easy to take for granted in this country. The importance of providing basic human necessities like clean water to protect the health of others is insurmountable. We need not have another Haiti.

Kellie Chin, sophomore
Communications Team

To learn more about cholera and Haiti, check out Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Unicef and Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population.

Calling My Children: Beyond the Photos


Photo source

HIV/AIDS is a deadly disease that in the United States alone has killed over 600,000 people and still kills about 15,000 more each year [1].  In Nepal, a small country with a population of about 27 million (the equivalent of 4 New York Cities), has about 49,000 people currently living with HIV and 4,100 deaths due to AIDS in 2012 [2]. As of 2010, it is estimated that over 34 million people were living with HIV globally (though in 2012 the WHO estimates that it’s closer to 35.3 million), with 2.7 million new infections and 1.8 million deaths of AIDS-related illnesses [3].  Needless to say it is one of the most major and significant pandemics of our lifetime and is representative of many facets of international health disparities, as morbidity and mortality rates have often been correlated with social, economic, and even political factors (if WHO guidelines were met by 2015, over 4.2 new infections could be averted and 2 million lives saved [4]).  But, an interesting fact, no one has ever died from the actual HIV virus.  Most deaths from people living with HIV/AIDS are attributed to secondary infections, some even as innocuous as the common cold, that became lethal because of patients’ compromised immune systems.  So here’s the tricky part about AIDS: even though the virus living inside you is not what is going to kill you, it makes it so that practically any other pathogen might.  The life of someone with untreated or poorly treated AIDS consists of infection after infection after infection, with simple bugs that most people would not even notice making them bedridden and sometimes even on the brink of death.

David Binder, a nationally-acclaimed photographer, has followed this life for almost a decade, documenting the last year of life of a 27 year-old woman named Gail and the impact her death had on her family 10 years after her death.  These photographs later turned into a documentary called Calling My Children which, since its release in 2012, has been aired on national public television and screened in numerous  locations, including the United States Capitol.  Because of this work, AIDS advocacy is stronger than ever before and Gail’s family has been receiving support from ordinary citizens across the country.

To support David Binder’s continued efforts to document Gail’s legacy and advocate on the behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS everywhere, make a donation to the project here.

For more information or to explore David’s work, please refer to the website for Calling My Children and share Gail’s story so that her legacy can continue.

Gail Farrow’s story has profoundly resonated with diverse audiences through its presentation in magazines and exhibitions. This is a rare view of the bonds of family love that are both torn apart and endure through the ordeal of AIDS. The most powerful dramas are the ones where we can see ourselves and our loved ones. The story of Gail and her family gives us the opportunity for recognition and empathy.” [5]