At a glance: Haiti

How Haiti combats cholera

By Jean Panel Fanfan

On 21 February, UNICEF launches Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) 2014. This global appeal pulls together the combined needs for those living in the most challenging circumstances – whether large-scale emergencies making headlines around the world or less-visible but no less urgent crises that put the lives and well-being of children and women in danger.

With the aim of providing critical assistance to 85 million people, including 59 million children, HAC 2014 is the largest humanitarian appeal ever made by UNICEF – $2.2 billion in total – reflecting the increased impact of disasters and emergencies on children around the world.

Just 10 months after a devastating earthquake struck the nation’s capital in January 2010, Haiti was faced with a massive outbreak of cholera that would cause as many as 1,000 new cases per day and has affected more than 600,000 people. Responding to humanitarian needs continues as the country recovers from the destruction and the epidemic.

In the past year, the Southern Department of Haiti has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of cholera cases. To what and to whom can this success be attributed? 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Haiti/2013/Fanfan
Standing outside the home of a patient suspected to have cholera, in South Department, Haiti, Exile Sylveus Junior talks to the gathering crowd about the importance of using treated water

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 27 December 2013 – The cholera treatment centre of Camp Perrin has a young patient with a suspected case of cholera. Exile Sylveus Junior and his team race to the scene in in Les Cayes, south of Port-au-Prince.

Exile is an emergency team leader with the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED). He’s been fighting cholera with the organization for three years, in different parts of Haiti. He is one of the people in charge of responding to cholera alerts in Southern Department.

A coordinated effort

ACTED is one of UNICEF’s key partners in the strategy to support the Haitian government’s national plan for the elimination of cholera. The organization is part of a network of NGOs that UNICEF has created to fight cholera. Having this network in place means better coordination among all stakeholders, which, in turn, means faster response and expanded prevention activities.

According to the cholera coordinator for UNICEF, Claudia Evers, “The key actors who are now involved in the fight against cholera – and not only those who are supported by UNICEF – coordinate, talk, share responsibility.

“The public deserves all our energy,” she adds. “We are on the right track.”

A three-pillar strategy

Samuel Beaulieu is in charge of the ACTED programme for the southern part of Haiti.

The fight against cholera is based on three pillars, he says – epidemiological surveillance, investigation and rapid response.

With surveillance in place, interventions can focus on areas in which cholera persists. There are three mobile teams that can be dispatched at any time, when an alert has been raised. ACTED holds awareness-raising activities in schools, markets and churches and through community associations. In fact, ACTED and the National Directorate of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DINEPA) have conducted 135 campaigns that have reached 68,000 people across the Southern Department.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Haiti/2013/Fanfan
Exile and his team go through the patient’s house and decontaminate it. Coordinated rapid response is part of Haiti’s efforts to eliminate the disease, for once and for all.

Samuel credits these and other actions of partners in the field for a dramatic reduction of cases of cholera in Southern Department – 71.5 per cent over the course of the past year. “But, do not forget the weather,” he says. “The rainy season arrived much later.”

Exile’s intervention

At Camp Perrin, Exile is able to persuade the 16-year-old patient’s aunt not to take the boy to Port-au-Prince, a journey of about four hours. He will not survive the trip, says Exile.

Then, Exile and his team visit the patient’s house, in La Roche aux Ponts. The house is in a remote area at the bottom of a green valley, accessible only by off-road vehicles. It has rained the night before, and the path is difficult.

Exile’s team includes community agents and drinking water and sanitation technicians. They work for DINEPA.

A crier alerts local families that an important message is going to be delivered. People begin to gather around the patient’s home. The crowd swells to 40 and continues to grow. Exile begins to speak, his voice disturbed only by the shrill cries of birds nesting in the trees. The people gathered hear about the importance of using treated water and learn how to prepare oral serum.

Then, Exile and his team move on.

No time to sleep

The network of NGO partners like ACTED is fundamental in the fight against cholera in support of the Haitian government. A challenge over the coming months will be taking advantage of the dry season, when there are few cases and there should be opportunity to put preventive measures in place.

In the meantime, Exile and his team are ready, and busy. “Beyond the professional aspect,” he says, “the most important part of my work is the human side. It allows me to be closer to the population.

“When lives are saved, you seem to be useful to the community,” he continues. “There is no time to sleep. We must be ready to intervene at any time. When there is an alert, you must visit the scene as soon as possible and ensure that others are not contaminated.”


 

 

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