Dr. Vincent DeGennaro Jr. | September 14, 2017
Practicing medicine in the tropics entails more than its fair share of the unpredictable, a factor that only increases during Atlantic hurricane season. Last month, as Houston was flooded by Hurricane Harvey’s relentless rains, Haiti pitched in to help.
Clean water is a perennial issue in the island nation where I serve cancer patients through my nonprofit organization, Innovating Health International (IHI). Hurricanes and other flood-creating tropical storms increase the risk of deadly cholera epidemics. Last year, when Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti’s southern coast, my professional partner and good friend Jack Brewer stepped in to provide 600,000 water purification tablets — each one enough to treat a gallon of dangerous river water — to villages that had lost their already limited access to clean water for drinking, bathing and household cleaning.
Brewer, a former college football player and business executive, is a native Texan. This year, while he was watching Harvey’s devastation of Houston and its Gulf Coast neighbors and hearing reports that tens of thousands of people were trying to survive without water, a light went on. Rather than meeting that need with expensive and wasteful shipments of bottled water, he thought, why not use water purification tablets instead?
The tablets aren’t easy to come by. Their use in the U.S. is largely limited to backpackers’ canteens and the kitchens of remote homes that rely on well water. Federal regulations allow only smaller doses that purify one a liter of water at a time, rather than the five-liter tablets available on the international market. Unfortunately, the U.S. manufacturer was unprepared to respond to the disaster in Houston. Most of its tablets were in places like Yemen, the Middle Eastern nation wrestling with a cholera epidemic in the midst of a terrible war.
The situation led Brewer to conclude that the most cost-effective and readily available option left to him was to purchase water purification tablets in Haiti and bring them to Houston.
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