By Benjamin Steinlechner
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 23 November 2010 – As Haiti’s cholera epidemic continues and hospitals here struggle with a mounting number of patients seeking help, UNICEF and its partners are conducting an information campaign to raise awareness about preventing the spread of the disease.
|VIDEO: 18 November 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the increasingly severe cholera epidemic sweeping Haiti. Watch in RealPlayer|
Health centres and clinics across the Haitian capital are filled with people of all ages as medical staff work around the clock – disinfecting surfaces and making sure dehydrated cholera patients drink oral rehydration solution every few minutes.
Cholera is an easily transmittable disease that causes severe diarrhoea, leading to rapid dehydration. If left untreated, it can kill in a matter of hours.
Early treatment saves lives
About 50,000 Haitians have sought medical treatment for cholera. Some 20,000 cases have been confirmed and almost 1,200 deaths reported since the epidemic began more than a month ago. Health experts worry that the real numbers could be even higher.
|Children read a cholera-prevention poster in Cité l’Eternel, a poor neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where UNICEF and the non-governmental organization Gret are distributing Aquatab water-purification tablets to respond to the cholera outbreak.|
Outside a UNICEF-supported emergency cholera treatment centre (CTC) at the Gheskio health centre in the impoverished Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Cité l’Eternel, anxious family members wait for news of sick loved ones as new victims of the disease arrive.
Treating patients even before they reach health facilities is a key message of a UNICEF-supported information campaign.
“Once the signs are apparent that it might be cholera, immediately start with the oral rehydration while you are making your way to the CTCs or the hospitals. So now the message is, ‘Do not waste time,’” says UNICEF Health Specialist Dr. Mireille Tribie. “And that’s what makes the difference between people living or succumbing to cholera.”
In Cité l’Eternel and other neighbourhoods throughout the capital, teams of community health workers have been putting up posters to help teach people how to protect themselves. At public water points, the teams have been handing out free Aquatab purification tablets and information about the disease.
|Two men tape cholera-prevention posters on the side of a building where residents are buying water in the impoverished Cité l’Eternel neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
At the same time, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and non-governmental organizations, UNICEF is working to raise awareness about cholera through radio, television and SMS text messages targeting at least 80 per cent of the population.
The ultimate aim of the public-awareness campaign is to ensure that households have at least one person who knows how to prevent cholera and what to do in case symptoms occur. This effort will also include community meetings and distribution of information in health centres, schools and markets – as well door-to-door visits and children’s activities in local communities.
Impact of the campaign
Cité l’Eternel is home to tens of thousands of families who live crammed together in tiny shacks with no running water or proper sewage facilities. The mounds of garbage and the open sewers full of human waste are breeding grounds for cholera. Preventing the spread of the disease in neighbourhoods like this one is an urgent priority for UNICEF.
|A boy bathes outside his tent in the crowded Cité l’Eternel neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.|
The information campaign is having a real impact on the lives of young Cité l’Eternel residents such as Basélé, 11. Like everyone here, Basélé has to fetch water at a community water point. He’d heard about cholera but knew little about how to protect himself – until he and his friend saw one of the new posters that are now all over the neighbourhood.
“We have to eat food that is well cooked, drink purified water and wash our hands often,” Basélé says.
UN donor appeal
Health experts are concerned that outbreak may not peak until the end of the year. Last week, the United Nations launched an international appeal for $164 million to fight cholera in Haiti.
“While we are very grateful for the contributions received so far, both cash and in-kind,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher, “we only have received less than 10 per cent of what we need.”
Haiti cholera outbreak
Educating children on preventing cholera
Campaign raises cholera awareness
Cholera prevention in Port-au-Prince
Cholera outbreak spreads