The rainy season has begun in Haiti. It’s been raining for several weeks now, and with the rainy season comes the risk of spreading waterborne illness, including cholera.
This fast-acting, waterborne illness is caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium and leads to severe dehydration and even death. Children and those with weakened immune systems, like the ill and elderly, are especially at risk. It has affected thousands of individuals and families in Haiti since the initial outbreak in October 2010 – Haiti’s first cases in over a century. The good news is that cholera is very easy to overcome with oral rehydration therapy and/or IV fluids if treated early.
To date in 2014, the HAS service area has not seen any cases. Spring is usually a slow time for cholera, but this has been our calmest year so far. However, we are on alert: when rain falls, the likelihood of spreading illness increases dramatically. Cases of other waterborne diseases like typhoid have been reported recently in our zone, so the risk is real.
We have already begun preparing for the season. Last year HAS saw about 150 patients; this year we must be ready to treat even more. New Ministry of Health (MSPP) regulations require all health facilities to treat cholera as a normal disease, whereas in prior years non-MSPP health facilities like HAS were required to refer to MSPP facilities except in severe cases. HAS also strives to not only treat, but also prevent as many cases as possible in 2014.
Here are some of the ways in which we are preparing:
- In the first quarter, over 6,000 community members received targeted education about waterborne illness, oral rehydration therapy, and hand washing and hygiene, among many related topics. We are now ramping up efforts to reach more people with timely messages for prevention.
- Our 46 community health workers are currently reviewing information about cholera prevention and oral rehydration salt (ORS) use, and this will become part of their daily work starting in May; they will emphasize the messages at every home visit, health post, and other community activities.
- We are pre-positioning ORS, IV serum, chlorine, and other supplies for cholera treatment at the mountain community health centers of Tienne and Bastien. This will allow staff to respond quickly in case of a sudden outbreak like we had last July. We also aim to send additional staff to the mountain dispensaries at the first sign of cholera, and to prepare to transport patients at a moment’s notice.
We have many needs to ensure that we are ready. We must fund transport between our remote community health centers and posts, enlist additional nurses to help our already stretched staff handle the increased patient volumes, and obtain crucial materials, like water purification tablets, that we have not already been able to access.
All hands will be on deck to respond to cholera this year, as they have been from the beginning. With your help, HAS aims to help whole communities in Haiti avoid this deadly disease.