In a nation which even before the earthquake had health problems unimaginable for us in the United States, could turn out catastrophic in days to weeks to come.
The country was already the poorest in the Western hemisphere with an average income hovering around $1000 annually and with the mortality of a child under 5 years old and the mortality of pregnant women being the highest in the area.
Haiti was already plagued with incredible infectious disease issues like parasitic worms like Ascaris and hookworm infected large amounts of the population. Life-threatening falciparum malaria is endemic on the island nation. The island of Hispaniola is the only island in the Caribbean where this is true.
Diarrheal diseases, bacterial, viral and parasitic, are one of the most common causes of infant mortality.
So why will the situation likely worsen in coming days. First, there will be even more severe malnutrition than before the earthquake. Food may be scarce and having food may make you a victim to the street thugs who will steal and maybe kill for the goods. With malnutrition comes susceptibility to many infections and anemia. There is already a history of poor Haitian people eating “dirt” pies which can be a rich source of intestinal roundworms.
The lack of potable water may be the most devastating situation that could happen. With much homelessness and the water system basically out of commission; and proper sanitation completely lacking, diarrheal diseases like dysentery and the death that follows may grow exponentially.
In addition, the crowding of people can’t help the transmission of waterborne diarrheal diseases, crowding is also a haven for respiratory illness like influenza, tuberculosis and meningitis in which the later two are quite common in Haiti.
With many people homeless and wandering the streets and sleeping outside, the chance for confrontation with rabid animals could increase.
All this; no clean water, no sanitation system, crowding and crime will be compounded with a near total lack of any health care except what is provided by agencies like Doctors without Borders and foreign governments.
But with a population of over 9 million, little to no infrastructure, and security at a premium, the people Haiti are in dire need of any and all help available.