By Jennifer Browning
Representing the deadliest health crisis since January’s earthquake, a cholera epidemic is reportedly spreading in central Haiti.
The Haitian Ministry of Health today has confirmed cases of cholera in the area surrounding the lower Artibonite region of Haiti. Health Minister Alex Larsen reported that a river running down from the central plateau through the Artibonite region has tested positive for cholera.
Project Medishare’s Country Director Marie Chery reported that the pattern of the epidemic is along the Artibonite River, south of the UN camp located on the road to Thomonde, just past Mirebalais. No cases are yet to be identified in the UN camp.
Hospitals and clinics of the lower Artibonite region are overwhelmed and more than 2000 cases have been reported with 160 confirmed deaths. A few cases have also been reported in Mirebalais.
In our communities in the Central Plateau, Project Medishare is responding with an organized plan of mass education using our network of community health workers, community leaders, school teachers and others.
“We are using the local radio station also to educate on the necessity of treating or boiling drinking water, preparing oral rehydration solutions, and hand washing,” Chery said. “We are distributing liquid bleach, hand soap, and oral rehydration packets. We are also working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to assist in the affected areas in the Artibonite region and the Central Plateau.”
Dr. Michel Dodard, Director of The Global Institute of Community Health and Development, just returned from Haiti where he gave a long interview in Creole to Voice of America (VOA) to discuss the facts about cholera , preventive measures and treatment.
Medical staff at Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare (HPBMPM) has mobilized all resources required to fight the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The in-country supply warehouse is currently having specialized cots set aside along with oral rehydration agents, IV fluids, antibiotics and sterilization agents to be used upon request by our programs in the Central Plateau as well as for HBMPM in Port-au-Prince.
“Communication with the Ministry of Health as well as with other NGO’s such as JP/HRO and PIH has been initiated in order to present a coordinated attack on all fronts to contain this potentially devastating epidemic,” Dr. Enrique Ginzburg, Project Medishare’s International Director said.
Project Medishare is also assisting Yéle Haiti, who is currently deploying 14 water trucks in order to provide safe drinking water to the affected areas in the Central Department.
Marie Chery continues to stay in close contact with the Ministry of Health and will be providing regular updates.
What is Cholera?
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness that is spread by drinking water that is contaminated by human feces with the organism Vibrio cholera. Symptoms typically develop between one and five days after drinking water contaminated by human feces containing the cholera bacteria. Only about 10 percent of those who drink water contaminated by the cholera bacteria will fall ill; however, the infection can be severe particularly among young children, the elderly, the malnourished and persons with decreased immune function.Those ill with cholera can develop profuse and severely watery, high volume diarrhea that is rapidly dehydrating. Without adequate replacement of volume lost, patients may go into shock and die of dehydration. The mainstay of treatment for cholera is fluid and salt replacement—generally by oral rehydration solution—a standard combination of salt, sugar and water. Intravenous fluids may be needed if the person is unable to drink due to vomiting or depressed level of consciousness. Antibiotics are used to decrease the volume of diarrhea and the excretion of bacteria in the stool, which can decrease transmission.
Cholera is a disease of poverty—and was one of the earliest documented public health problems. Cholera epidemics are caused by lack of access to safe, clean water as well as inadequate sanitation. Typically, the poorest people obtain water from a river or stream, not from a deep well or treated water. The same river is used for defecation as such communities lack access to pit latrines or public sewage and waste management. While boiling water will kill the cholera bacteria, the fuel to boil water costs money and as wood-based charcoal is the main source of cooking fuel in Haiti it is also related to continued severe deforestation of the country. Cholera can also be transmitted if a person eats food contaminated with the cholera bacterium.