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Why Democracies Don’t Get Cholera

October 26, 2010

Joe Amon in Foreign Policy:

Amartya Sen famously said that famines do not occur in well-run, democratic countries. The same is almost always true for cholera epidemics.

Not long after Haiti’s earthquake in January, public health officials warned that poor sanitation and lack of potable water were creating conditions ripe for an outbreak of infectious disease. They were right. In the last week, a cholera outbreak has swept this impoverished country, with more than 3,100 confirmed cases and 250 deaths reported so far. So why — if we knew that there was a danger of cholera — couldn’t it have been avoided? In short, because disease and democracy often work in opposite directions: vulnerable populations and inadequate government action create both the conditions for cholera epidemics to emerge and to become unmanageable.

Cholera epidemics stem from the same basic cause: poor people living in crowded and unsanitary conditions, with inefficient public health monitoring and limited health care.

Cholera is a bacterial infection caused by the ingestion of fecally contaminated water or food. When an outbreak starts, it gains momentum fast. But another cause is government denial and cover-up. [More]

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