Responding to the surge in cholera cases in northern Haiti's Artibonite department
The epidemic has been raging for several months in the department, where access to clean water and sanitation services remains a significant challenge
GROS MORNE, Haiti - 6 October 2023 - Josuas Achelus and his two-year-old son, Jovenson, arrived at the UNICEF-supported Cholera Treatment Centre located within Alma Mater Hospital in the town of Gros Morne, Artibonite, northern Haiti, just three days ago. His son, Jovenson, lay in the center, slowly beginning to recover.
"At home, he started vomiting, and hours later, he had diarrhea. He weakened very quickly. That’s why we rushed to the hospital, which directed us to this cholera treatment center" Josuas said.
“When they arrived here, the child was completely dehydrated. Cholera is a bacterial infection typically characterized by two easily identifiable symptoms: vomiting and diarrhea. However, it can lead to sudden death due to severe dehydration if not treated promptly” noted Dr. Norvilus Bertrand, the hospital's head.
"The disease is easily treatable when detected early, and most infected individuals have been successfully treated through the prompt administration of oral rehydration solution (ORS)" he said.
The epidemic has been raging for several months in the department, where access to clean water and sanitation services remains a significant challenge, exacerbated by insecurity and armed group violence. Two of the three major water treatment plants in Artibonite have shut down due to insecurity, and the third faces distribution challenges.
Since the onset of the outbreak, the department has reported a total of 9,990 suspected cases, resulting in 137 related deaths.
"Cholera is extremely contagious. It is usually transmitted through fecally contaminated water, hands, or food. The rainy season creates a perfect environment for the disease to spread. As long as people continue to face challenges in accessing clean water and essential services, the threat of cholera will continue to loom around us" warned Dr. Norvilus.
UNICEF and its partners are ramping up their operations on the ground to contain the spread of the disease.
UNICEF is focused on mobilizing essential lifesaving support, that includes emergency health supplies, medical products, technical support for outbreak control, risk communication and community engagement for prevention and early treatment, as well as safe water supplies.
In Artibonite, the organization supported the establishment of cholera treatment centers, conducted extensive disinfection of water storage and sources using chlorine to combat bacteria, and distributed water purification equipment and hygiene materials to affected households.
A total of 350,000 persons have been reached so far with UNICEF’s critical water, sanitation and hygiene interventions and 23,000 with our critical cholera response. It includes the distribution of chlorine, cholera and hygiene kits in violence-affected areas, as well as the restoration of damaged water sources.
At the community level, UNICEF has undertaken a series of actions to promote hygiene awareness in affected communities. In addition to working with the local health authorities and partners, 150 community health workers (ASCP) have been deployed in the most affected communes to raise awareness about the measures individuals can take at the household level to prevent cholera and facilitate patient referrals.
The cholera outbreak is advancing rapidly throughout the country, with over 63,000 reported suspected cases and more than 900 associated deaths to date. The surge in internally displaced persons (IDPs) rising from 10,000 IDPs in April to 22,000 in July 2023 in Artibonite, poses a grave risk, especially to vulnerable children, intensifying the cholera threat.
"The epidemic is spreading at a rapid pace across the country. We urgently call for additional support to enable us to scale up our response," stated Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti.