Just 10 months after the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history swept across Haiti. As of June 10, 2012, 555,328 cases of cholera had been reported, over 300,000 people had been hospitalized, and the disease had killed 7,260 people since the outbreak began.
The situation stabilized for a time, but in recent months there has been an increase in the number of cholera cases in the Artibonite, Nord-Ouest, Nord-Est, and Ouest Departments, in the island of Gonave, as well as in displaced camps in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and surrounding communities. In July the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent in Haiti warned, “There is a significant probability of a major cholera emergency in Haiti in the coming months but resources have been severely diminished”.
Baseball in the Time of Cholera, a short film released earlier this year, is a powerful insight into the tragedy and scandal of Haiti’s Cholera epidemic through the eyes of a young baseball player and a Haitian lawyer fighting for compensation for the victims. Please take a few minutes to watch it and then sign the petition calling on the United Nations to take responsibility for the epidemic – DNA tests and epidemiological studies, including those of the UN itself, have documented that UN peace keepers deployed from Nepal brought the vibrio cholerae bacteria to Haiti.
Groundswell and its local partner, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL), launched an immediate response to the cholera outbreak that saved many lives. As soon as PDL staff recognized what was happening, they organized local community leaders to undertake a massive educational campaign about preventative hygiene and sanitation measures. At the same time, Groundswell and PDL distributed antibiotics and intravenous rehydration fluids to health centers in its area of influence and also provided chlorine for water treatment and oral rehydration therapy (ORT) packets to families. Local PDL-trained health promoters played a key role in training families to effectively use the chlorine and ORT.
Since the cholera outbreak began, our response has significantly limited the spread of the disease:
- 3,292 families have received training on various treatment techniques to produce safe water. Chlorine was used while villages organized themselves to build water filters.
- 817 water filters have been produced, installed in houses and are being used. PDL bought six water filter molds and trained 16 artisans to build water filters using local materials in those communal sections.
- 1,161 latrines have been built and are being properly used, significantly improving sanitation in six program areas. PDL provided tools (pickaxes, shovels, and digging bars) and materials to build the latrines.
- 5,319 families have received support and training on hygiene and sanitation, including proper hand washing and use and maintenance of latrines.
Cholera, like the January 12 earthquake, will impact Haiti for many years, and requires a sustained effort to overcome. To keep cholera in check, Groundswell, PDL and our partners understand we must further improve public health infrastructure – clean water sources (e.g., wells and protected springs), latrines and washing facilities – and further build the capacity of community health committees and local health promoters, which will lead systematic, community wide efforts to address this new challenge and contribute to the overall goal of creating resilient communities.