Haiti and healing the fear of contagion

As our Caribbean neighbor, Haiti, completes a year-long odyssey of suffering, turmoil, and endemic disease, following the devastating earthquake that has left more than a million people still displaced, it is also dealing with a cholera epidemic. By December, 3,500 people had been killed by the disease, and experts estimate that there could be as many as 400,000 new cases in 2011. 

Cholera isn’t endemic to Haiti, and there has been some dispute about how the outbreak occurred. The disease is thought to be spread more by unsanitary living conditions than through human contact, yet resentment has been aimed at international aid workers who were accused of carrying it to Haiti. Like the wave of emotion that flows through a crowd, fear of disease and contagion is picked up and passed along. It argues that life is based in matter and is subject to material conditions that can harbor deadly diseases, and that sickness is inescapable.

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