Here is what local doctors who visited Haiti saw.
"We saw a young boy knocking mangos off a tree," said Dr. Patrick Broderick, director of emergency medicine at Western Connecticut Health Network. "The mango would fall into a stream. Another boy would fish them out. The stream was polluted with sewage from another stream. That's how it starts."
In this case, "it" refers to cholera -- a bacterial disease caused by drinking contaminated water. The disease has largely been eradicated in the Western Hemisphere through basic public health sanitation -- you don't drink water carrying human or animal waste.
Haiti's three-year-old cholera epidemic has killed more than 8,000 people and hospitalized 650,000 because the country lacks even the most basic protections for its sources of drinking water.
"The first day we were there, I saw a cholera case," Broderick said. "I've seen two or three in my 20 years of practicing medicine."
"The sanitary conditions are abysmal," said Dr. Robert Jarrett, a Brookfield cardiologist.
Jarrett and his wife, Menoo Afkari Jarrett, founded of Hearts Around the World, a group dedicated to teaching modern medical practices to doctors in Third World countries. The group has projects underway in Vietnam, Kenya, China and plans one in Myanmar. A group recently returned from Haiti.
In all these mission, Jarrett assembles a team of doctors and nurses to spend about a week abroad. Each team, while caring for the people in host country hospitals, emphasizes best medical practices while working with local doctors.
In other countries, a Hearts Around the World team might include 10 to a dozen people, with a team visiting the country twice a year.
In Haiti, Jarrett said, the conditions on the ground are so hard, and the care so basic, Hearts Around the World has had to change its model. The group plans to send smaller teams there more often.
"We want to go every two months," Jarrett said. "They need everything."
The team -- Jarrett, Menoo Akfari Jarrett, Broderick, his wife, Linda, a cardiac nurse,and Sofia Rodrigues, a cardiac sonographer, both at Danbury Hospital -- spent their days at Hospital Sacre Couer in Milot, a town in the mountains of northern Haiti.
The 75-bed hospital is run privately by a relief organization, Crudem, which is run by Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J.
Because of its location on Haiti's north coast, Hospital Sacre Couer escaped the ravages of the 2010 earthquake that decimated the country. But the acute need for care forced Sacre Couer to find room for 300 patients. It still has tents outside that shelter an extra 50 beds.
"It's this oasis in the mountains," Broderick said of the hospital.
Getting good medical care to patients in Third World countries is difficult enough. But Haiti is an extreme case.
Haiti's average annual income is about $1,630, according to the World Bank. About 80 percent of the people in the country live in poverty
"I've been to Africa," Rodrigues said. "But the level of poverty I saw in Haiti was something I don't think I would have been able to comprehend."
Extreme poverty breeds disease.
"The tuberculosis rate is very high," Akfari Jarrett said. "It's really heartbreaking."
"People walk barefoot and get tetanus," Jarrett said. "There are diseases there we don't see in the United States."
"I treated people with malaria, more in one day than I've seen in 20 years," Broderick said.
The civil institutions that provide structure in other countries don't exist there.
"There really is no government," Jarrett said. "There really is no police except the U.N. peacekeepers, and there aren't a lot of them."
But, as is often the case, people with so little are extremely appreciative of any care offered, the physicians said.
"The people there are so kind, so grateful, so welcoming," Broderick said. "The staff is so eager to learn anything they can."
"In the United States, we make an appointments to see the doctor and heaven forbid if the doctor is two seconds late," Rodrigues said. "There, the people were waiting six hours for an echocardiogram without complaining. These are people who are so much sicker than we see in the United States."