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At a glance: Haiti

In Haiti, a model for preventing, controlling and treating cholera in slums and tent cities

By Thomas Nybo

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 26 February 2013 – Four days ago, 4-year-old Nelson nearly died from cholera.

Today, Nelson is enjoying a strong recovery. He’s lying on a cot and joking with visitors at a GHESKIO cholera treatment centre. An intravenous drip, attached by a tube and needle to his right hand, replenishes the vital fluid he lost to the disease.

UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on the battle against cholera in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Watch in RealPlayer


“He could have died”

Nelson’s mother, Ghislaine Saintimé, is seated next to him, speaking with a member of GHESKIO’s staff, Dr. Colette Guiteau Moise.

“It was a Tuesday,” recalls Ms. Saintimé. “He was at school and became sick with diarrhoea and vomiting. I got a call and went to his school. I took Nelson to the general hospital, but they could not treat him, so they transferred him here, to the GHESKIO cholera treatment centre. We came at the right moment because Nelson was losing consciousness. If we didn’t get here then, he could have died.”

Treatment and prevention

According to the Ministry of Public Health and Population and United Nations partners, as of 6 February, more than 8,000 Haitians had died from cholera since the outbreak of the epidemic in October 2010. More than 645,000 cases of cholera had been reported in the country.

GHESKIO opened its cholera treatment centre in October 2010, the same month of the outbreak, and was joined by UNICEF a year later in a partnership aimed at protecting people against cholera in Port-au-Prince.

© UNICEF Haiti/2013
Nelson Saintimé, 4, receives treatment for cholera at the GHESKIO cholera treatment centre in Port-au-Prince.

Through December 2012, says Dr. Guiteau Moise, more than 11,000 cases of cholera had been seen at the centre, of whom only 30 people died.

“Every patient here receives instruction on how to prevent cholera,” Dr. Guiteau Moise says. “When they leave here, they will have received an education, special tablets to treat their water, educational pamphlets, and sometimes, when needed, bleach. They will also have follow-up appointments with our staff.”

Focus on water

GHESKIO’s work here has served as a model for preventing, controlling and treating cholera in urban slums and in tent cities – two areas in which people run a high risk of catching cholera, in part because of a lack of clean water and proper sanitation systems.

On this day, a mobile GHESKIO team is walking through the nearby City of God neighbourhood, testing water and checking on a local outpost where residents are instructed on cholera prevention and treated for any mild cases of diarrhoea. The more severe cases, including any trace of cholera, are immediately referred back to the main cholera treatment centre.

© UNICEF video
GHESKIO opened the centre in October 2010 and was joined by UNICEF in 2011 in a partnership aimed at protecting people against cholera in Port-au-Prince.

Spreading the word

Back at the centre, Dr. Guiteau Moise says the staff is already preparing for the arrival of Haiti’s rainy season, just a few months away. When the rains overwhelm the tent camps and the city’s basic sewer lines, the number of cholera cases will jump dramatically.

Dr. Guiteau Moise says the staff encourages every patient and family member, including young Nelson, to spread the word about surviving and avoiding cholera.

“When they leave this centre, their lives will change, their behaviour will change, because the team here has helped them protect themselves,” she says.



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