The rainy season begins in Haiti in late spring, and by this time of year it is in full swing. This week, Tropical Storm Chantal is bringing heavier than usual rainfall to Haiti and to the Lower Artibonite Valley, where Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS) is located. At HAS, our first concern is the public health impact that tropical storms and hurricanes can have on the population we serve. Torrential rains can lead to mud slides, ruined crops, and contaminated drinking water. When downpours like the one that may accompany Tropical Storm Chantal descend upon our service area, we must ensure that we are prepared to treat a higher volume of patients, especially for diarrheal diseases and for malnutrition.
Cholera, transmitted by a waterborne bacterium, Vibrio cholera, is one of the most severe diarrheal diseases that we see and can quickly become life-threatening if not swiftly diagnosed and treated. Because the highly contagious bacteria are transmitted through water, the more rain there is, the more cases of cholera there will be. Since cholera’s introduction into Haiti in 2010, HAS has seen peaks in admissions to our cholera triage center during the high rainy season months of June and July. In 2011, we admitted up to 50 new patients PER DAY in the month of June. Because of past valiant efforts to stop this deadly disease before it reaches epidemic levels, this year’s cholera numbers have been significantly lower than they were in 2011. However, we must continue to be ready for an increase in cholera cases in our vulnerable service region.
In addition to remaining stocked with IV fluids, oral rehydration salts, and antibiotics to stabilize cholera patients, HAS focuses heavily on cholera prevention through education, with sessions and seminars led by our nurses and community health workers; these educational sessions are able to reach approximately 9,000 people per month. Additionally, our water and sanitation team works tirelessly to ensure water quality in our wells and cisterns, and focuses throughout the year on installing as many clean water sources as possible. Clean drinking water is one of the most important ways to prevent diarrheal diseases like cholera. Since 1998, we have provided clean water to about 120,000 people in our service area by drilling wells. Because HAS is located near the Artibonite River, one of the major water sources for all of Haiti, our efforts to keep people healthy and safe in our service region have a far-reaching impact on the entire country.
Many other diarrheal diseases are also water-borne, including rotavirus and E. coli. Our pediatrics ward is far busier in summer than at any other time of the year, largely due to diarrheal diseases, to which children are particularly susceptible. According to the WHO, diarrheal diseases, which are both preventable and treatable, are the second leading cause of death in children under 5 worldwide. Furthermore, they are the leading cause of malnutrition in children under 5. Because we know that this is the season for diarrheal diseases, we are prepared to respond to this need and to help children start feeling better as soon as possible. In the community, we distribute over 800 packets of oral rehydration salts per month to children with diarrhea, and refer serious cases from remote clinics run by HAS to the main hospital. Malnourished children with diarrhea are treated with antibiotics and stabilized, and then transferred to the malnutrition ward for nutritional rehabilitation. Our comprehensive, integrated system allows us to treat more patients each year at an earlier phase of sickness, so fewer kids are likely to die from what should be preventable and treatable diseases.
HAS is doing all that it can to serve the public health needs of the entire population of the Lower Artibonite Valley that emerge during the rainy season. To learn more about the amazing work going on at HAS every day, ‘Like’ our Facebook page www.facebook.com/hashaiti.org and follow us on Twitter (@HASHaiti)!