July 30, 2011 – Solving the sanitation problem is within reach, and it could avoid many deaths
“CHOLERA most forcibly teaches us our mutual connection. Nothing shows more powerfully the duty of every man to look after the needs of others.” So said Titus Salt, a Victorian wool baron who worked to put an end to cholera in Yorkshire. It was cholera, as much as the great stink, which led London’s masters to build vast sewers, install toilets, and promote hygiene. Cholera struck fear into 19th-century cities, sweeping away the rich along with the poor. America’s President James K. Polk died of the disease after a visit to New Orleans. His successor, Zachary Taylor, may also have succumbed.
The liquid diarrhoea and vomit jetted out by a body infected by the bacterium Vib rio choleraeis a reminder, in extreme form, of the danger lurking in the excrement which flows from every human settlement, creating a problem few want to go near. Not all human waste has the deadly bacterium; but all of it is dangerous and better disposal of faeces would go a huge way to stopping cholera and other deadly intestinal diseases.
And with the urban population in poor countries soaring, cholera is still a pressing concern. In Haiti the health ministry recently announced that 5,800 people had died of cholera since October last year. Another 250,000 had recovered, often after having lost work or schooling. Those numbers do not include Haitians believed to have died, helpless, in remote places.