Cholera response broadens to disease prevention in smaller communities of Haiti
Saint-Michel, October 31st. 2010 - As cholera response activities focus attention on Haiti’s Artibonite region north of the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince, UNICEF and its partners now hurry to address needs in other areas of the region.
A three-hour drive up a steep, bumpy road, brings two vehicles filled with oral rehydration salts, IV fluid, and other UNICEF and partner medical supplies to Saint-Michel, a small agricultural area 300 km north of Saint Marc, the epicenter of the cholera outbreak.
At first sight there is little indication that this small community high in the mountains is preparing for battle against cholera. But as Medical Director of the Saint-Michel hospital serving the area’s population of 140,000, Dr Lesly Andreey is more than aware of the grip cholera now has on this tiny Caribbean nation.
“There was a first case of cholera in the region last Thursday,” Dr Andreey says. “A total of 17 people have died since, and the flow of people coming into the hospital for treatment hasn’t stopped since.”
As of Friday, the Ministry of Health had reported 4,714 hospitalized cases and 330 deaths attributed to cholera since the disease first surfaced in this island nation the week of October 18. In the Artibonite region, government figures suggest that children under five represent approximately 21% of reported cases. The total number of reported cases for children aged up to 18 is potentially higher.
In addition to medical supplies, mass communications and mobilization are also needed to ensure people have information needed to protect themselves and their families. UNICEF continues to respond to the cholera outbreak in addition to preparing to assist Haiti in the event of impacts from hurricane Tomas.
“Until now response activities have focused on the south of the region of Artibonite because it’s the most affected. We now have to focus on preparing the population of neighboring areas as the epidemic spreads quickly,” explains Mehoundo Faton, UNICEF Maternal and Child Health Manager, who is among staff helping assess the capacity of health care facilities.
UNICEF has conducted a total of 11 assessments in Dessalines, Drouin, Petite Riviere, Desange, and Verrettes in Bas Artibonite and Saint Michel de l’Attalaye, Gonaïves in Haut Artibonite, as well as Mirebalais and Lascahobas in the centre region of Haiti and Arcahaie in the west.
In Port-au-Prince, UNICEF has been actively engaged in community information activities related to prevention, sanitation, and medical response. As of Oct 27, UNICEF facilitated the participation of 60,630 children in 450 Child-Friendly Spaces in specific hygiene promotion sessions on cholera prevention and hygiene in over sixty camps in Port-au-Prince.
In Gonaives, UNICEF Field Coordination staff met with Child Protection actors, and facilitated a training conducted by partner Save the Children for animators/agents working in residential care centres on prevention of cholera transmission.
Nonetheless, in Saint-Michel, resident Claudette Batiany says there is a feeling of powerlessness in the neighborhood.
“I am really scared and sad,” she says. “I am a teacher and I can’t go to work. My neighbors have cholera. It’s terrible. I’m worried about my family... nobody knows what is happening.”
To help ensure the situation does not deteriorate, Dr Andreey says information activities are being conducted at the community level, including sending about 85 community health workers out into communities to help people understand how to protect themselves.
As part of this cholera information campaign, Dr Andreey is personally working with local students about measures they can take to protect themselves and their families.
“This afternoon I am going to speak in front of students to tell them about prevention. They volunteered to participate in sensitizing the population about the disease,” says Dr Andreey, adding that it’s important that families know that they can protect themselves by drinking only pure or sterilized or boiled water and by washing their hands before handling food and after using the latrines.
Michel Wisnel, a 20-year-old student attending Dr Andreey’s lecture, says he already only uses treated or boiled water and is very careful with his selection of food.
“I am not really scared anymore because I have informed myself on how to avoid infection with cholera. What I want to do now is to learn more here today so I can share what I know with other people.”
For more information:
Jean Jacques Simon, firstname.lastname@example.org, UNICEF Haiti
Tamar Hahn, email@example.com, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.