Plague highlights public health failings in Madagascar

This article is one of a series from my recent Pulitzer Center-funded trip to Madagascar. To find all of my reporting to date with photojournalist Rijasolo from our project, “Madagascar: When the Aid Dries Up,” click here. To read the full article at GlobalPost, click here.

January 9, 2014

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — Madagascar boasts some of the world’s rarest life forms. Eighty percent of its plants and animals are endemic to the island, including the beloved lemur.

It is also home to a distinctly less endearing organism: a bacteria called Yersinia pestis—or, in common parlance, plague.

The notorious slayer of up to 60 percent of Europe’s population in the 14th century has grabbed international headlines in recent weeks after five serious outbreaks hit this Indian Ocean island nation, resulting in at least 84 cases and 42 deaths.

The outbreaks have spotlighted the perilous state of public health in Madagascar just as the Indian Ocean nation is trying to emerge from a five-year crisis precipitated by a 2009 coup d’état. The ensuing political upheaval coupled with drastic cuts in foreign assistance crippled basic government services at the same time that millions more Malagasy slipped into poverty.

Hundreds of health clinics were shuttered and investments in clean water and infrastructure nose-dived. In the capital, Antananarivo, trash can go weeks, even months, without being collected and rats have become a common sight along the narrow alleyways that coil around the city’s steep hillsides. In the run-up to the recent legislative elections, some candidates took to hauling away trash themselves in a bid for votes.

“What we’ve seen in Madagascar is an ongoing unraveling,” said Richard Marcus, a Madagascar expert and professor at California State University, Long Beach.

Continue reading…


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