NPR reporter Richard Harris is one of the best science journalists around, and this week's series on the cholera epidemic in Haiti promises to be another entry in his stellar oeuvre. This morning's "teaser" piece documents the difficulties aid organizations are having in getting a cholera vaccine to Haitians, noting that there are political barriers well beyond the "simple" operations issues of getting the lifesaving vaccine into the mouths of people (the vaccine is oral). As I wrote in some brief thoughts immediately following the earthquake, understanding its horror and the aftermath in Haiti is best not merely understood as a natural disaster hitting an impoverished place: the problems run much deeper, and we're seeing some indications of why in Harris's reporting.
Given the GOP primaries, the possibility of a regional war in the Middle East (beyond the current violence, of course), and the recent tragedy in Afghanistan, the story of the Haiti cholera epidemic is not likely to be noticed by all but the most ardent news junkies--or at least commuters who listen to NPR. But it really is big news: since the outbreak began in late 2010, more than 7,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have been affected (the CDC numbers need some updating, but otherwise a useful link). Keep in mind that of the various Ebola or Marburg virus outbreaks that have occurred in Africa where they received weeks of breathless front-page coverage here in the US, the largest number of deaths from any single outbreak was never larger than about 300. By any measure this is a tragedy on an epic scale.