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Battlelines of cholera prevention in Gonaives

By Benjamin Steinlechner


Gonaives,  November 11th., 2010 - In a crowded market place in Gonaives, women stopped bargaining for vegetables’ to listen to the megaphones blaring the cholera prevention message, “lave men nou” – “everybody wash your hands.” With cholera ravaging the Artibonite region, getting the message out about cholera prevention is critical to managing a further spread of this disease and saving the lives of children who are the most vulnerable.


Teams of Haitian Red-Cross Volunteers have fanned out across markets in Gonaives in Northern Artibonite with the goal to inform the locals about prevention and how to get help for this  the highly contagious disease, whose spread may now be being further exacerbated by floods caused by Hurricane Tomas that struck Artibonite and especially this town in Haiti’s north west.


“One of the most effective ways of prevention is communication.“ Explains Frank Kashando, UNICEF Field Coordinator for the Artibonite.“ UNICEF is supporting the local Haitian Red Cross with 25 megaphones and 800 spare batteries to inform the population.”


Cholera is forefront in the minds of the local population. Visiting the town’s market hall, the red- cross team takes time to answer questions of people of all ages. Vincent Clairville asks “I was wondering, how I can protect my children and family from this illness? Hearing that simple actions like regularly washing hands with soap after going to the toilet and drinking treated water really help.”


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


UNICEF is supporting the information and media unit at the Ministry of Education and is finalizing hygiene sensitization messages for television which will be broadcast throughout country, networks will start playing these to a wide audience next week..


UNICEF and the Haitian Red Cross in Gonaives will target schools in the race to mitigate the spread of cholera. Spraying the schools with chlorine will assist in killing bacteria which thrives in hot and humid conditions. Information however has to be accompanied by actions and Red Cross volunteers will be teaching the children to wash their hands correctly before and after eating and after they have been to the toilet. 


“For communication to be effective it has to be accompanied by actions,” says Kashado.

“That’s why we are also supporting the Red Cross disinfecting schools.” The disinfections will take place in schools in the entire region but it is especially important in schools that were used as shelters for people after the flood. In the context of the epidemic people started to be afraid to send their children back to school, explains Kashando.


Pierre Harry Sail D’Louis the headmaster of the Marie-Jacques L. Simon school is thrilled with the initiative.

“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,” he explains. “There were many people in this school during the storm and I want to be sure that my students are safe.”

In addition to the hygiene promotion activities, Principal Sail D’Louis has developed an education plan that includes daily information on how to prevent contraction with Cholera.


“ Parents  are a critical part of the information equation, they have to understand the importance of preventive measures. However, it is the children who will be the most powerful messengers about cholera prevention, “ adds, Sail D’Louis “Children are very attentive and have been soaking up the information. We know they will go home and badger their parents about what they have learnt.”


For more information:

Jean Jacques Simon, jsimon@unicef.org, UNICEF Haiti

Tamar Hahn, thahn@unicef.org, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean




UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.



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