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At a glance: Haiti

UN appeals for funding as cholera outbreak worsens in Haiti

UNICEF focuses on prevention for the most vulnerable

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2434/Dormino
Two children stand near dwellings surrounded by floo water from Hurricane Tomas, in the impoverished Raboto area of the city of Gonaïves, located in Haiti's cholera-stricken Artibonite Region.

By Benjamin Steinlechner

GONAÏVES, Haiti, 12 November 2010 – The death toll in Haiti's cholera epidemic has now climbed to some 800, with more cases reported in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other areas outside the Artibonite Region where the outbreak originated. In response to the worsening situation, the United Nations has issued a new appeal for $163 million in donor aid.

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More than 12,000 Haitians have been hospitalized for cholera to date. And now hospitals in the capital are seeing patients who show symptoms of the highly infectious, waterborne disease, whose spread was exacerbated by flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas last week.

“Some parts of the country are more affected than others,” UNICEF Representative in Haiti François Gruloos-Ackermans told UNICEF Radio in a telephone interview today. “We at UNICEF are focused on making sure that we identify the more at-risk populations.”

Prevention through communication

At a crowded marketplace in Gonaïves, located in northern Artibonite, women stopped bargaining for vegetables to listen to megaphones blaring the cholera-prevention message, “lave men nou” (“everybody wash your hands”). With cholera ravaging the region, getting the message out is critical. Teams of Haitian Red-Cross volunteers have fanned out across markets in the area to do just that.

© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Dormino
A Haitian Red Cross worker disinfects a classroom to prevent the spread of choldera in Gonaïves.

“One of the most effective ways of prevention is communication,” said Frank Kashando, UNICEF’s Field Coordinator in Artibonite. “UNICEF has supplied the local Haitian Red Cross with 25 megaphones and 800 spare batteries to inform the population.”

“The megaphones allow us to diffuse our messages much quicker,” said Matthias Dornilma of the Haitian Red Cross, “but we also take time to talk to people individually, and show leaflets that demonstrate how to prevent cholera”

Schools targeted

Haitian Red Cross volunteers are giving children lessons in handwashing and personal hygiene, as well.

© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Dormino
Haitian Red Cross workers speaks to residents about proper hygiene and sanitation at a market place in Gonaïves, located in the Artibonite Region where the cholera outbreak began.

“Schools are important,” said Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans. When students are trained in prevention, she noted, “they are protecting themselves but they are also protecting their families – because as soon as they go back to their families, they will teach the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and the community.”

UNICEF is also supporting cholera-prevention messaging by the information and media unit at the Ministry of Education and is finalizing hygiene messages to be broadcast on television throughout country.

Disinfection teams

Meanwhile, UNICEF and Haitian Red Cross disinfection teams are targeting schools in Gonaïves in the race to mitigate the spread of cholera. Spraying the schools with chlorine will assist in killing bacteria that thrive in hot and humid conditions.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2442/Dormino
A woman watches as medical staff treat her grandchild for cholera, in a hospital in the impoverished Raboto area of Gonaïves, Haiti.

This work will take place in schools across the region, but it is especially important in schools that were used as shelters for people affected by the hurricane floods. In some cases, people have been afraid to send their children back to these schools.

“The Ministry of Education has ordered to postpone the start of school from today until next Monday to allow enough time for schools to be disinfected,” said Pierre Harry Sail D’Louis, headmaster of the Marie-Jacques L. Simon School. “There were many people in this school during the storm, and I want to be sure that my students are safe.”

Urgent messages

At the same time, in camps for people displaced by the January earthquake in and around Port-au-Prince, UNICEF is adding urgent cholera-prevention messages to the health, nutrition and hygiene information it provides to mothers of young children.

At the Maïs Gâté 1 camp north-west of the capital, the supervisor of the camp’s ‘baby tent,’ Mauviette Rafael, noted that “it’s obligatory to wash your hands before going into the tent.” She expressed hope that messages on the symptoms and danger signs of cholera, as well as hygiene and sanitation measures that can prevent it, would be circulated by the camp’s mothers.

Nationally, UNICEF has provided nutrition guides for toddlers and babies in the context of the cholera epidemic. The organization is currently working with its partners to increase the capacity of health structures in the capital, in case the numbers of sick increase.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.




12 November 2010: UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans discusses the battle against the cholera epidemic.
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