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Haiti Quake Poses Health Crisis

Haiti Quake Poses Health Crisis

With "some of the worst health indicators in the world," Haiti has a very limited ability to respond to the catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake it experienced on January 12, says Richard Besser, senior health and medical editor at ABC News and a former acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, and its 9 million people already face high rates of HIV disease and tuberculosis. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, Haiti has the highest per capita TB burden in the Caribbean and Latin America. TB is second only to AIDS as the nation's greatest infectious cause of mortality.

The first priority is search and rescue, and President Obama has pledged a "swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives," with a focus on "the humanitarian relief, food, water, and medicine Haitians will need in the coming days."

Besser warned of the health consequences possible due to the lack of water, sanitation, and access to clean food. The country has no public sewage system, and less than half of Haitians have access to clean drinking water, according to the World Health Organization. This type of crisis can raise the risk of infectious-disease outbreaks (chiefly hepatitis A and E), bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, typhoid fever, dengue fever, malaria, and leptospirosis.

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