By Jennifer Browning
Forty community health agents gathered at the Project Medishare office in Thomonde today to meet with Country Director Marie Chery, Dr. Serge Pintro, Zanmi Lasante doctors and Project Medishare medical staff. After the meeting the staff handed out water purification tablets and oral rehydration solution to community health agents. The health agents will distribute these items to those in their community reminding them how important it is they follow specific prevention guidelines.
Project Medishare medical staff reinforced the prevention guidelines.
Federick Fanel, a health agent with Partners In Health’s sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, was also invited to attend to help spread the word in the community. Fanel, who is also a teacher in Thomonde, said he learned much at the meeting.
“They not only reinforced the importance of boiling and treating water, but also how important it is to disinfect the latrines. In rural Haiti, there are many people without latrines, so it is important that we instruct them how to properly build a pit latrine by digging a deep hole, and more importantly covering it properly after use.”
Fanel said that he also learned how to instruct others on how to make their own oral rehydration solution, if they did not have any of the ready-made packets on hand.
During the meeting Dr. Malou Phanord also stressed to the health agents how important home visits were at this time.
“Home visits are even more important today, because there may be some who have symptoms and stay at home,” she said.
Should a health agent notice a person with cholera symptoms, Project Medishare community health nurse Wiseline Celestine also gave specific instructions on what the health agent should do. Because cholera severely dehydrates its victim, it can kill within hours.
“If someone has diarrhea as a symptom, before you take them to the hospital, it is important to immediately start giving them the rehydration solution,” Celestine told the health agents. “This will help them stay hydrated on their way to the hospital. Many of the deaths in Artibonite were on the way to the hospital, because they were not able to hydrate before leaving for the hospital.”
She then talked about how it was necessary for all the water people used to be purified.
“It is important to tell them to use these purification tablets to not only purify the water they drink, but all water,” she said. “They must treat the water they bathe in, the water where they wash their dishes and their clothes. It is a lot of effort, but it is very necessary!”
Benet Joacime, a supervisor for health agents stationed in very rural Baille Touribe said he appreciates meetings like the one today because it allows for good communication between the Project Medishare medical staff and the health agents.
“When we learned that cholera had started in the Artibonite, we immediately went out to our sections and started educating about preventing cholera,” Joacime said.
For Joacime, he said it was important to make sure all of the community health agents in his area were organized and understood how to educate each area about prevention.
“It is a big responsibility because I have to make sure my community is safe,” he said, “so I have to put more leadership out to my agents, and be really organized to make sure everyone understand how important this is.”
He continued to explain how the health agents are using all of Project Medishare’s resources to spread the word. Health agents who oversee hard to reach areas are given motorcycles and all agents are given megaphones to speak to large groups and community education rallies.
At these community cholera prevention meetings, Benet said people listen closely.
“From what we see, people are very afraid of this disease,” he said. “They listen on the radio and they hear how bad things are in the Artibonite, so they really know how important it is to follow our instructions.”
When we were notified of the outbreak, the purification tablets and disinfectants weren’t available for us to distribute to the communities,” Joacime said. “People were worried. We continually heard ‘how can I protect my family?’ ‘How do we purify the water?’”
Without the purification tablets to distribute, Joacime said that health agents stressed the importance of boiling water, cooking food thoroughly and steering clear of raw fruits and vegetables. However, now they can help the people in their community go one step further in making sure the water they use is clean.
“Now that we have these important items to hand out to the people. We can go back to our communities and as we distribute the purification tablets and rehydration solution, we can reinforce the message,” he said. “We are so grateful that we have these to give to the people in our community to keep them safe.”
*Laurene Leger contributed to this story.