Chikungunya, a contagious, mosquito-borne virus that is spreading throughout the Caribbean, has now been confirmed in Haiti. Over the last several days, we believe patients in the service area of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS) have been sickened by the virus. HAS is taking proactive steps to prevent the spread of the disease, and to care for patients sickened with the chikungunya virus.
Although chikungunya has existed in tropical areas of Africa and Asia for decades, experts believe that international air travel brought the disease to the region this past winter. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that, over the last six months, 50,000 people may have already suffered from chikungunya throughout the Caribbean—and the number is only growing.
Symptoms of chikungunya include high fever, intense joint pain, back pain, headache, and skin irritation. Infants and young children, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
There is no vaccine or cure for chikungunya. Once someone has been infected, we can only try to ease the painful and debilitating symptoms. Affected patients are being given acetaminophen (Tylenol) to ease fevers and aches, and are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
At HAS, we know the best way to confront an epidemic is to prevent its spread. Targeting the mosquitos that carry the virus is particularly important now, during the rainy season, when standing pools of water and mud become ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos. Educating health workers and communities about the symptoms and risks of chikungunya will be key in keeping surrounding communities healthy and safe.
That’s why HAS is moving quickly in the face of this new public health threat. My staff and I understand that in a world of globalization and international travel, HAS must anticipate emerging public health threats and do whatever we can to halt the spread of this disease.
As CEO, I have approved measures that will ensure that our staff is prepared for new demands on our services and expertise. Last week, my colleagues Dr. Herriot Sannon, Medical Director of HAS, and Dr. Hedwige Pierre, Chief of Medical Service for HAS Division of Integrated Community Services, attended a national meeting about chikungunya presented by the World Health Organization. Dr. Pierre then quickly mobilized all 46 HAS community health workers and their coordinators for a training session on recognizing and preventing chikungunya. Yesterday, at the hospital’s morning medical conference, doctors and nurses learned how to recognize the symptoms and treat patients suffering from the disease. Our facilities team is now treating the hospital campus with insecticide, to prevent the further spread of chikungunya-infected mosquitos.
How can you help? What HAS most needs now is to be ready for an influx of patients. Most urgently, we need flexible, immediately available funds that will allow us to:
- Hire temporary nursing and clinical help, as we see and treat more patients. We suspect that some of our own clinical staff have already been exposed to and contracted chikungunya, further stressing our availability to care for patients.
- Buy needed medications, such as Tylenol and rehydration salts, before supplies become exhausted.
- Purchase dozens more mosquito bed nets, to protect clinicians and other hospital patients from becoming infected with chikungunya.
- Secure the needed insecticides, materials, and extra help to clear the hospital campus of mosquitos.
Through proactive and strategic steps to halt the spread of the disease, HAS is responding to the challenge of chikungunya in our service area. The HAS management team, doctors, nurses, and staff are in continuous communication, and HAS is collaborating with partner organizations to fight this new epidemic. We likely have not yet seen the peak of chikungunya cases, and HAS will do everything we can to protect patients, families, and communities in our large service region.