Archive for October, 2010

Children gathering water from unprotected water source in Bayonnais, Haiti

Cholera often infects people when they consume untreated water from open sources like this one in Baille, Haiti.

Thirty-nine people have died and hundreds are ill in Groundswell program areas located in the Artibonite Department.

In the village of Bayonnais, 12 people have died, including one of the leaders of the coordinating committee of the Peasant Movement of Bayonnais, a key local partner organization. In the town of Saint Michel 27 people have died (25 from the same communal section). And while the origin of the outbreak was Artibonite, cases of cholera are now being reported in the Centre, North and West departments, where Groundswell also supports communities and community organizations.

On October 25, the Haitian Ministry of Health reported 259 deaths due to cholera and 3,342 confirmed cases of the disease. We know that at least some of the deaths reported to us by local partners are not included in the Ministry’s statistics, and, therefore, fear that the toll may be significantly higher than estimated by official channels. We are reporting new cases to authorities and surveillance epidemiologists and coordinating our response to the extent possible.

Health services are very limited in rural Haiti. Larger towns sometimes have government health posts staffed by an auxiliary nurse, but these facilities offer limited services and have few supplies, certainly nowhere near enough to cope with an outbreak of this magnitude. Therefore, people must travel long distances on rough roads to reach a hospital or clinic capable of providing treatment, and even then there is no guarantee they will receive care.

Yesterday Cantave Jean-Baptiste, National Coordinator of PLD, reported, “All the hospitals and health centers in Gonaives and neighboring villages and cities are overloaded with affected people… physicians and nurses are even afraid of the infected people. People are dying.”

Groundswell and PLD are stepping in to fill these gaps. Our response is focusing on helping community-managed health structures run by local partners to care for critically ill patients and stopping the spread of the outbreak by ensuring clean water and food and promoting good personal hygiene practices. Following the spate of disasters in recent years, Groundswell and PLD have increased our focus on clean water and improved sanitation, including hand washing and waste management (latrines), which play a decisive role in the health of rural communities. This is even more important now because cholera can persist in the environment for years.

Since the January earthquake Groundswell and PLD have helped thousands of families gain access to clean water by constructing water filters and protecting water sources, improve sanitation by building latrines, and strengthen community health overall by reinforcing community health structures and training health promoters and community members in practical skills, such as the use of oral rehydration therapy.

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