IRC cholera prevention campaign in full gear in Haitian capital
Proper hygiene and sanitation practices are key to curbing the spread of cholera, says Melody Munz (left), IRC’s environmental health program coordinator in Haiti. (Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC)
With at least five cholera cases officially confirmed in Haiti’s densely-populated capital Port-au-Prince, humanitarian and national health agencies are mobilizing a swift response.
“There is a great potential for the fast spread of the disease in congested and unsanitary camps and surrounding neighborhoods, particularly in the middle of the rainy season,” says Melody Munz, environmental health coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in Haiti. “With the crowding and potential for flooding, the conditions are ripe. It can spread through the city in a matter of days.”
More than one million people continue to live in settlements in and around Port-au-Prince since the January 12 earthquake, which devastated the city and killed more than 300,000.
Munz says the key to curbing the spread of this highly contagious disease is prevention. She says the aid community is closely coordinating to ensure the systematic treatment of drinking water at its source and pre-positioning medical and sanitation supplies in Port-au-Prince.
The IRC has launched prevention activities in 30 settlements where it currently has operations--focusing on chlorinating water sources and promoting proper hygiene and sanitation practices.
Nearly 160 IRC community hygiene promoters who live in the camps are stepping up a campaign that was already in place to spread messages about washing with soap, drinking only chlorinated water and other protective measures.
Global hand-washing day, observed last week in Port-au-Prince, helped stress the importance of
hand washing to prevent the spread of disease. Photo: The IRC.
“Global hand-washing day was actually last week,” says Munz, “That’s good timing because thousands of people already got the message about the importance of hand washing, drinking treated water and eating cooked foods. Now we’re driving the message harder.”
Munz says her team is also gearing up to distribute sanitation supplies.
“We are prepared to distribute water storage and water treatment supplies as well as soap and hand-washing basins to 4,000 families,” says Munz. “We also have supplies of aquatabs and oral rehydration salts should, in the worst case scenario, an outbreak spread throughout the city.”
As of Sunday morning, Haiti’s Ministry of Health was reporting that 220 people have died so far in this epidemic and 2,674 had become ill with cholera. The disease causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea which can result in dehydration and death within a matter of hours. Once someone suspects they are ill with cholera, action must be taken immediately.
“What’s absolutely critical to treating cholera is rehydration,” says Munz, “And then it’s vital that people in affected areas practice good hygiene so that they don’t make others sick.”
With two major national holidays coming up next week on November 1st and 2nd, there is great concern that Haitians who live in regions hit by the epidemic may travel to visit friends and family in other parts of the country, making the spread of infection more difficult to contain.
Haiti Crisis Watch Report: Nine months after a massive earthquake struck Haiti, the IRC's teams of experts continue to deliver help and hope to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.