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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF supports community mobilization to stop spread of cholera in Haiti

Haiti earthquake: one-year report

Children in Haiti are still reeling from the lingering impact of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. Here is one in a series of stories on the long road from relief to recovery, a year later.

By Benjamin Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 6 January 2011 – Even as it addresses the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti now faces a devastating cholera epidemic that has killed thousands and sickened many more.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on community mobilization efforts to prevent cholera in Haiti, a year after the earthquake.  Watch in RealPlayer


Even before the quake, most Haitians had limited access to safe water and sanitation facilities. With many parts of the country still suffering from the effects of the disaster, living conditions have degenerated and the risk of cholera infection for children and mothers – the most vulnerable population – has increased.

The key to containing this highly virulent, waterborne disease lies with improving the sanitary conditions and raising awareness about how to prevent infection. With these objectives in mind, UNICEF is reaching out to Haitians with cholera-prevention messages.

© UNICEF video
Children from families displaced by the earthquake play next to a sewage canal and garbage dump in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where poor sanitary conditions have heightened the risk of cholera.

Treatable and preventable

Teams of specially trained educators are participating in the mobilization effort nationwide, using megaphones, putting up posters and talking about prevention in churches and via radio broadcasts and mobile-phone SMS text messages. Their main message is that cholera is treatable and preventable.

In-school training – which recognizes that children can act as mentors to family members and friends in disseminating prevention messages – has also been an important component of community mobilization. Because the majority of Haiti’s 22,000 schools still lack safe drinking water, sanitation and handwashing facilities, UNICEF and its partners are also supporting sanitation and hygiene activities in schools – including the latrine construction and installation of handwashing stations.

Another crucial element of UNICEF’s response has been the provision of life-saving supplies, such as soap, water-purification tablets and hygiene kits, in communities affected by cholera. UNICEF has also supplied hundreds of tents to house cholera treatment centres across the country.

© UNICEF video
A busy marketplace amidst water overflowing from a sewage canal in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, where UNICEF and its partners are mobilizing to prevent waterborne disease.

Preventive measures

In addition, UNICEF is collaborating with DINEPA, the government’s water and sanitation authority, to extend its presence throughout Haiti’s 10 territorial departments via a water, sanitation and hygiene ‘cluster’ comprising dozens of humanitarian agencies.

To prevent cholera in displacement camps and disadvantaged communities, the cluster is working to increase chlorination of all public water supplies – including trucked, piped and commercially sold water.

Health specialists expect cholera to remain endemic in Haiti for years to come. Preventive measures are the most effective and sustainable means of halting its spread. Even when the disease is brought under control, the sanitation and hygiene challenges facing Haiti will continue to require sustained action and support.



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