A cholera epidemic in Haiti has killed hundreds and infected many more. Caritas is working with the government and other humanitarian aid agencies to try to stop the epidemic spreading further and killing more people. Cholera is spread by contaminated water. The challenge of containing the outbreak is great as Haiti is still trying to rebuild after an earthquake 12 January that destroyed hospitals, water supply and sewages, and left over a million homeless.
By Dolores Halpin-Bachmann, Caritas Emergency Response Team Coordinator, from Port-au-Prince
The main thrust of the Caritas and Church response to the cholera outbreak is a broad public information campaign outlining key hygiene measures to avoid contracting or spreading cholera.
This is being done on several levels and through all available channels.
For example, the Bishops Conference and Caritas have developed key messages in line with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
These are being broadcast several times a day on national radio channels. These messages are also being communicated at all masses, parish meetings, church group gatherings by parish priests. Caritas staff and volunteers are also working with community-based groups, camps, church-run community health stations, clinics, across the country to promote how best to safeguard against cholera.
Since I arrived last Wednesday, I have observed at first hand, that people are taking these messages very seriously and I have been impressed by the level of attention being given by ordinary Haitians to incorporating these simple good hygiene practices into their daily routines.
The second level of response is providing vulnerable individuals in cholera-hit areas with hygiene kits, acquatabs, and water filters in an effort to ensure that vulnerable individuals and communities are able to apply the hygiene guidelines in practice.
Much of this effort has been focused on the Dioceses of Gonaives and Hinche up to now as these are the two dioceses where the outbreak first started and the ones with the highest numbers of cholera cases to date.
In the camps here in Port-au-Prince where Caritas and CRS (A Caritas member from the USA) are active, considerable efforts have been made over the last weeks to ensure camp populations are aware of the hygiene measures required and to continuously monitor, improve and upgrade water and sanitation facilities for camp populations as well as their access to things like soap.
The third level of the response involves supporting Caritas and Church run hospitals, clinics and health units to handle and treat cholera cases.
Coordination between Caritas and government as well as with the wider international humanitarian community here is excellent. In the Diocese of Hinche, which I visited yesterday, a provincial task force was established quickly after the outbreak emerged. Caritas Hinche is a member of this task force and one of the first decisions of the task force was a division of roles between the different members of the task force.
Caritas is taking the lead within the province on public awareness and working closely with the Red Cross on this, while Amis de la Santé is taking the lead on treatment of cholera cases.
The main hospital in Mirabelaes (population 90,000) in Bas Plateau, which I visited yesterday, has admitted 3,600 patients with cholera since the beginning of the outbreak. Of these 15 patients have died. The standard of treatment and care there is exemplary.