“There’s no reason to believe that the mosquito will behave differently here [in Haiti] than in the Dominican Republic,” says Dr. Jean Luc Poncelet, the World Health Organization’s representative in Port-au-Prince.
Why are the numbers so dramatically different? Dr. Louise Ivers, with the nonprofit Partners in Health, which runs the largest teaching hospital in Haiti, is concerned that Zika is spreading as a silent epidemic.
Indeed, Haiti has all the ingredients for a major outbreak. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, is widespread. Open sewers and ravines covered in trash provide ideal breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. A doctors strike over the past four months — it just ended — pushed the public health system into crisis, making it less likely that health care officials would pay attention to Zika.
Poncelet says part of the problem is that the country doesn’t have the resources to test extensively for Zika. Haiti is also in the midst of a political crisis that has left it without an elected government since February. And it faces numerous other health issues, including a cholera outbreak that has sickened 25,000 people this year alone.
Meanwhile, the effects of Zika are apparent, even though the nation is reporting only a handful of confirmed cases.
Doctors at public, private and religious hospitals say they’re seeing an increase in babies born with microcephaly — a condition that the World Health Organization has linked to Zika — as well as a spike in Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition that can spring from Zika. Haiti has few services for people with disabilities so it’s unclear how the country will be able to cope with a surge in severely disabled children.
At the Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti’s central plateau, doctors say they’ve had four babies born this year with microcephaly — three of them in July. Dr. …