KATHERINE ENGQVIST: Haiti preparation challenges seem trivial

Gazette reporter ready to join volunteer crew in hurricane-ravaged country

Goldstream News Gazette reporter Katie Engqvist heads for Haiti today (Oct. 28) to document the work of a group of West Shore volunteers. Watch upcoming issues of the Gazette for her in-depth stories and reactions from a country digging out from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.

I’m not going to lie, there have been several choice four letter words uttered this week. There’s also been a lot of running around the house trying to find this and that as I remember one more thing I need but can’t find. A problem aggravated by the fact I keep wandering into a room and immediately forgetting what I’m looking for.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s been a panic, but it’s certainly been a more compressed timeline than what I’m used to before an international trip. I essentially had two weeks to get my ducks in a row and by the time you’re reading this in print, I’ll probably be on a plane heading south and the enormity of it will have finally settled in.

Once the initial shock wore off, I started piling everything I needed on my dining room table, much to the amusement of my kitten, who likes to reach up and pull things down from the table. I have been in a two-week long battle with this fur ball to steal back all of the hair elastics I have surrendered – his favourite toy of late. So far I have been able to rescue one and he managed to pull it out of my hair when I wasn’t looking, so we’re back to a draw.

There was also some colourful language when I went to try on some of the quick-dry clothing I keep for trips such as this one. I have apparently grown about an inch in the last year or so, as there is now a gap between the hem of the shirt and the waist of my pants. My pants have also unexplainably shrunk. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it anyways. But this was a problem a quick search through the closet and a quick trip to the store remedied.

Much to my husband’s amusement, I also had time to take Dukoral, an oral vaccine that protects against a number of illnesses including cholera. While it offers a great deal of protection, it is a disgusting, slightly fizzy, sickly sweet concoction that I usually try to drink as fast as possible while making a horrible face. You also can’t drink or eat anything for at least an hour afterwards, so the taste lingers.

But all of those “problems” start to seem pretty trivial when I think about the situation I’m heading into. Since the earthquake in 2010, the cholera outbreak in Haiti has become the worst epidemic in recent history, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2015 the death toll had risen to more than 9,000 and it was reported more than 700,000 Haitians had become ill with cholera. Flooding from Hurricane Matthew, which continues to spread the water-borne illness, has resulted in more than 200 new cases.

The World Health Organization announced earlier this month it would be sending one million cholera vaccine doses to Haiti, a country with a population over 10 million. Keep in mind individuals need to take two doses of the vaccine to be protected.

All I have to do to get the vaccine is walk into a local drug store, no prescription needed. But due to a limited world stockpile, those that need it will often go without.

That thought certainly makes Dukoral a little easier to stomach.

I don’t know if I would refer to myself as a seasoned traveller – I still hate flying – but Haiti will be the 22nd country I have stepped foot in. Each trip always holds new adventures, new stories to tell and every time I travel I am blown away by how connected our world really is. I look forward to sharing some of those stories with you when I’m back in Canada.