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'There is truly no reason to die from cholera but 9,000 people have since 2010'

And there’s been a 190% increase in the disease in Haiti this year.

THERE IS TRULY no reason to die from cholera but since 2010, 9,000 people in Haiti have.

As the world panicked about the horrific Ebola crisis last year, the cholera outbreak rumbled quietly on in Haiti. On top of the huge death toll, 736,000 people have been infected over the past five years.

In the first three months of 2015, there has been a staggering 190% increase in cases of the disease with more than 113 deaths.

Scenario training-30

Goal’s Gillian McKay recently accompanied the Haiti WASH team in Gressier (a rural area about two hours from the capital, Port Au Prince) as they engaged in cholera response interventions.

After recently returning from west Africa where she saw, first hand, the devastation of Ebola as she spent time virus hunting in Sierra Leone, she found a very different situation.

“It was a drastic change from Ebola, no yellow Personal Protective Equipment needed here in Haiti, but the principles of identification of cases, tracing of contacts, decontaminating of homes and educating populations for prevention applies to this situation just as it did in Sierra Leone,” she says.

“While the news the past year in terms of epidemic disease has been so focused on Ebola, we must not forget those affected by other illnesses as well, especially given that cholera, if treated quickly and appropriately with oral and IV rehydration, has an incredibly low mortality rate.

There is truly no reason to die from cholera  but weak health systems, poor road infrastructure, limited access to clean water and appropriate sanitation facilities, and poor hygiene and sanitation behaviours come together in a perfect storm whereby it has essentially become endemic in Haiti.

Cholera Treatment Centre.

Her first job in Haiti is to visit the Cholera Treatment Centre, supported by Medecins du Monde Spain, where she finds a three-year-old girl with cholera.

A trip to her home is next on the agenda.

“We arrived at the house to speak to the family and the neighbours to investigate where they get their water because cholera is waterborne,” she says. “We will test the water from their water source to see if the source is contaminated. We then decontaminate the house and yard and any neighbouring homes near-by with chlorine (to kill any bacteria on surfaces).”

Handwashing with Chlorinated water

Back at the treatment centre, there are about 25 more people being cared for by a team of Haitian health workers.

“The place smelled of chlorine, which is used to kill the bacteria on surfaces. There we are able to get information on who was admitted with confirmed cholera in the last couple of days so we can coordinate follow-up at the homes of those infected,” she explains.

“We also deliver a cholera care kit to families that includes water filter, chlorine tabs, soap, Oral Rehydration Solution and to provide health education on prevention and early treatment.

“The family and neighbours [of the young child] were very receptive to the teaching that was provided by the GOAL team, and they promised us that they would treat their water and set up a place for family members to wash their hands after going to the bathroom or working in the fields.”

Spraying often touched areas Source: Goal

The UN estimates that there are about a thousand new cases of cholera being recorded each week in Haiti.

The UN coordinator Pedro Medrano worries that years of work to beat back the disease are in jeopardy as donors turn away from the emergency.

“Unfortunately because of lack of resources and of the rainy season, in the last six months we have moved from a thousand new cases a month to almost a thousand a week,” he told AFP.

The UN official predicts more than 50,000 new cases this year, up from 28,000 last year, the lowest level since the outbreak began in October 2010.

Left unchecked, the epidemic could spread to neighboring Dominican Republic or Cuba, Medrano also warned.

With reporting by AFP

Read: UN peacekeepers ‘traded food and medicine for sex’

Column: Rebuilding a shattered country – Haiti, five years later

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