By Benjamin Steinlechner
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 19 November 2010—Fabiula Deballe, 27, looks exhausted as she stands in front of a tented cholera treatment centre at the Gheskio clinic in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. For three days, she has been sitting by her son’s bed who is recovering from cholera.
|VIDEO: 18 November 2010 - UNICEF Health Specialist Dr. Mireille Tribie discusses UNICEF's strategy for combatting cholera in Haiti. Watch in RealPlayer|
“He started vomiting and crying until he lost consciousness I was really, really scared I thought he was dead,” says Ms. Deballe.
“We brought him here by motorbike, and he got immediate attention and care, and the doctor told me that he was going to make it,” she adds. “He’s much better now and even playing a bit. I have not left his side since he got here!”
More cases expected
UNICEF has provided tents for 10 cholera treatment centres around Port-au-Prince – including the one at the Gheskio clinic – and supplies them with oral rehydration salts to treat the diarrhoeal dehydration associated with cholera. Meanwhile, Gheskio is gearing up for more cases.
|A boy heads home with a container of water in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, where UNICEF is providing free packets of water-purifcation tablets and cholera-prevention information to residents.|
“We now have 40 beds but the way things are going, I think we’re going to have to rapidly think about getting more beds,” says Dr. Margarethe Colepodre, who works at the clinic. “This morning things have started to heat up, and I think it’s going to continue.”
The clinic is adjacent to Cité l’Eternel, one of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighbourhoods, with little infrastructure and almost no sanitation. The area has been overcrowded areas for years, but its facilities have become even more strained by the arrival of people made homeless by January’s earthquake.
‘Preventable and treatable’
Dr. Colepodre says Cité l’Eternel and other nearby districts, including Village de Dieu and Cité Plus, “make a big slum, and we’re very worried about these people.”
|A girl pushes a wheelbarrow filled with empty water containers past a garbage-filled gully in Cité l’Eternel, an overcrowded district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
In response, UNICEF and its partners have been putting up posters and sharing cholera prevention messages by megaphone in the affected districts.
“The main message is that cholera is preventable and treatable,” says UNICEF Health Specialist Mireille Tribie. “We tell [the population] why it is preventable, the mechanisms to avoid infection and the good hygiene practices that should be put in place immediately. Cholera is treatable once the patient is diagnosed.”
Most people in Cité l’Eternel are getting their water at community water points where UNICEF and its partners are providing free Aquatabs for water purification.
|A Haitian woman holds several packets of Aquatab water-purification tablets in her mouth as she walks home with a large pot of water in the impoverished Cité l’Eternel neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.|
One of the Aquatab recipients, Delivrance Boislo, fills a 15-litre bucket at the water point. “I get water but I am not sure if it’s clean,” she says. “I use the aqua tabs to be safe.”
The 15 litres will last two days for Ms. Boislo and her seven children. She carries the heavy bucket on her head through the winding alleyways and past garbage-choked sewers to their tiny, two-room concrete shell.
“We don’t have a toilet,” she explains. “We use a bucket and then throw it away in the open sewer. We don’t even have a proper place to wash. We wash in a basin and throw away the dirty water.”
Increased chlorine treatment
The local water committee has been treating the water in Cité l’Eternel for the past 15 years. Since the cholera outbreak, it has redoubled its efforts and is treating the water with twice as much chlorine as previously.
“We’re very concerned, especially because we’ve never experienced cholera here before and we hear that this disease can kill in as little as three hours,” says the committee’s President, Jean Renel. “We may be poor, but we don’t want to die. We Haitians love life!”
19 November 2010: UNICEF Water and Sanitation Chief Mark Henderson describes UNICEF's response to Haiti's cholera outbreak.
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