Moses had spent his entire life in the United States until a few months ago. He was detained and sent to Port-au-Prince by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to his unauthorised status. Moses claims cholera entered the National Penitentiary sometime last week. Many inmates at Haiti’s National Penitentiary are chronically malnourished and have endured months of conditions that have deteriorated their health. If left untreated, they are expected to experience significant mortality rates.
Food and clean water have become even more scarce due to the national fuel and security crises. The cholera outbreak in Haiti’s National Penitentiary must be stopped to save the lives of those imprisoned there and safeguard nearby towns. For years, it has been recognised that prisons and jails act as “epidemic engines,” rapidly dispersing infectious diseases. The National Penitentiary crisis must be delayed any longer to be addressed effectively. Haitians have shown the skillful capacity to control cholera when necessary tools are available. International aid should emphasize empowering Haitians to address the current public health crisis rather than using it as a vehicle to establish control over Haitian affairs.
He lost it last Friday morning after spending days prowling over a cellmate’s decomposing body. He started picking up the wet body to move it out of the shared small room in defiance of the guards’ orders. Guards noticed him. Screaming followed. He was shot and killed for attempting to remove the corpse a short while later, leaving both dead. The guards at the National Penitentiary in Haiti killed this man because they were terrified of something. “I believe it is known as kolera or koleria. A man inside the prison told us about recent occurrences while narrating them on his cell phone, saying, “I don’t know how to say it in the [Kreyol] language, but it sounds like that.” We’ll call this man Moses must stay unknown to lessen the possibility of vengeance.
Moses had spent his entire life in the United States until a few months ago. He was detained and sent to Port-au-Prince by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement due to his unauthorised status (ICE). Moses was detained upon landing on a flight that ICE had leased. He was shortly moved to the National Penitentiary of Haiti. He is currently watching disaster develop from an unwelcome front-row seat.
Moses and a few other men behind bars who we have been in contact with via mobile phones claim that cholera entered the infamously harsh National Penitentiary sometime last week. The Haitian Ministry of Health confirmed this on Saturday. Moses stated that between Wednesday and Friday, or around 48 hours, more than 60 people perished from cholera. It has been challenging to confirm this; several sources have reported 32 or 33. Moses informed us later that 17 persons passed away on Saturday. Multiple independent sources (including both jailed prisoners and outside sources who have close ties to the prison) have also told us that there was the same number of fatalities on Saturday, bringing the apparent total death toll to somewhere between 32 and 80 people. In two reports published six hours apart on Sunday, government officials acknowledged 16 deaths within the prison, highlighting that it is currently practically impossible to validate the first-hand testimonies we have received formally.
The notoriously violent infectious disease cholera is passed from person to person by contaminated water and human fluids. The fatality rate from cholera might reach 50% without therapy. Many inmates at Haiti’s National Penitentiary are chronically malnourished and have endured months of conditions that have deteriorated their health; if left untreated, they are expected to experience significant mortality rates. Prisoners are typically housed in cells without restrooms. Latrines are buckets that cellmates share. Food and clean water, previously scarcely available regularly, have become even more scarce due to the national fuel and security crises. According to news reports that have repeatedly leaked, numerous inmates have starved to death after being denied food for up to two months.
As Haitian communities reported during the initial cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010, they were dying from cholera is a nightmare to both experience and observe. The symptoms, which include extreme diarrhoea, vomiting, cramping, thirst, and irritability, can start hours before death.
We can attest that outbreaks in densely populated areas are a scourge based on our experiences responding to previous epidemics, such as cholera in Haiti and Covid-19 in the US. This cholera outbreak in the notorious Haitian prison system, where the horrific conditions of detention have sparked outrage on a global scale for decades, is a complete catastrophe.
This has worsened the already appalling jail circumstances brought on by the harsh pretrial detention policies, tremendous foreign-induced poverty in Haiti, and a culture of contempt for the lives of those imprisoned. There are 800 inmates housed in the Haitian National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. It can accommodate close to 4,000 people right now. Approximately 90% of those detained there as of May 2020 are in protracted pretrial custody, which implies they have not yet received a criminal conviction. However, no one should be exposed to the horrifying, cruel conditions that characterise the Haitian National Penitentiary, regardless of why the imprisoned individuals may be there. That was true before cholera started to spread throughout the prison, and it is even more true now.
Fortunately, we are sure that it is quite possible to put an end to this outbreak (and the more significant cholera outbreak that is now brewing): If foreign players ensure that they have the resources they need to do so and if Haitian authorities promptly prioritise the implementation of what evidence indicates are vital steps. The first of these is the provision of emergency medical care, which, when cholera is detected early, needs the delivery of intravenous fluids and oral rehydration therapy, with the inclusion of antibiotics in severe cases. It has also been demonstrated that cholera vaccination can halt outbreaks and stop the spread of the disease. Medical tents should be erected as soon as possible, along with the necessary treatment and isolation equipment and emergency water and sanitation facilities. The second entails the immediate, widespread release of those detained inside the prison, which several studies have proven to be crucial to reduce infectious transmission during epidemics.
Third, suppose someone is freed and does not need immediate medical attention. In that case, they must still have access to food, clean water, and soap for their homes to stop the spread of cholera should they be subclinically infected or just in the early stages of the disease.
The families of the deceased should receive compensation, which is the final and most crucial stage.
Not only must the cholera outbreak in Haiti’s National Penitentiary be stopped to save the lives of those imprisoned there, but it also must be stopped to safeguard the nearby towns. For years, it has been recognised that prisons and jails act as “epidemic engines,” rapidly dispersing infectious diseases into larger populations outside their gates. The Covid-19 pandemic in the US has made this particularly clear. The long-repressed fact that if officials disregard the health and welfare of prisoners, it will inevitably eventually compound harm for entire country populations has to do with the nature of biosocial networks.
Given these epidemiological facts, the National Penitentiary crisis must be delayed any longer to be addressed effectively. If nothing is done, more people will perish each hour. A UN military deployment brought cholera to Haiti in 2010 and spread it there. At least 9,791 individuals eventually died, and 820,516 were made ill by the next outbreak. After three years without a single case of cholera being reported, the nation’s health ministry discovered a new attack earlier this month, which is currently looking into more than 220 probable cases and more than a dozen fatalities. It is evident from the outbreak at the National Penitentiary that a national health emergency is already in progress—and at a time when Haitians can least afford it in terms of politics and the economy.
Much-needed international aid should emphasize empowering Haitians to address the current public health crisis rather than using it as a vehicle to establish control over Haitian affairs. Haitians have shown a skillful capacity to control cholera when the necessary tools are at their disposal. Sadly, international promises to assist Haitians in this task have historically never materialised. However, the majority of the public health and humanitarian organisations in Haiti have only a few days’ worths of fuel left, which is insufficient to light hospitals and transport essential supplies, for example. International organisations must now focus their resources on public institutions and local organisations in Haiti that have already been meeting the country’s needs to stop the cholera outbreak at Haiti’s National Penitentiary, avert a growing epidemic across the country, and create the future that Haitians deserve.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network