IRC pushes ahead with cholera response despite election-related violence in Haiti
IRC community health workers are monitoring the camps where we work for cholera, chlorinating water and distributing oral rehydration salts, and pushing cholera education and basic hygiene methods that are crucial in the fight against this preventable disease. (Photo: Susana Ferreira/The IRC)
Despite disruptions from election-related violence, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is pushing ahead with its response to a cholera epidemic in Haiti that is killing dozens of people each day.
Cholera is a water-borne disease that can quickly cause acute diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. The IRC has a dedicated cholera response team made up of water and sanitation experts and nurses from our mobile health clinics. The bulk of our work, however, is carried out by trained water chlorinators, staff at oral rehydration kiosks, latrine cleaners and cholera surveillance teams in each of the 30 camps and communities where we serve nearly 100,000 displaced earthquake survivors.
“Our cholera response is those 182 people in the field,” says Melody Munz, coordinator of IRC’s environmental health program in Haiti.
Disruptions in transportation, road barricades and widespread demonstrations were anticipated in reaction to the national elections in Haiti. In the days leading up to the announcement of preliminary election results on December 7, the IRC ensured its field team had enough supplies to provide their communities with clean water and rehydration salts for at least a week.
Even with the disruptions and demonstrations, Munz says, it was important to ensure the day-to-day prevention work could continue.
Despite the best efforts of national and international responders, cholera prevention and treatment services are being affected by election-related unrest. The IRC is extremely concerned that unsafe conditions are keeping some field workers from their duties and that some cholera victims are too afraid to leave their homes for rehydration salts or treatment.
“The cholera response is being interrupted because community staff are being inhibited,” Munz says. “They have the materials they need to do their part in the response, but their personal safety is in jeopardy. We cannot compromise that.”
If the situation does not improve in Port-au-Prince and throughout the country soon, and the cholera response does not resume as before, there is concern that this already devastating outbreak could become much worse.
Three days after the election results were announced, the situation remains volatile. Haitians frustrated with the electoral process and what they see as widespread voter fraud have demanded a re-count. The new results will be announced early next week.
Outgoing president René Préval has appealed on national radio for calm, reminding his citizens that Haiti is still in the midst of a cholera outbreak—and burning roadblocks, disruption of transport, and a general sense of panic or fear in the streets can be disastrous for the response.
Snapshot: The IRC’s Cholera Response
• The IRC has built, installed and operates 30 oral rehydration kiosks in camps and communities throughout Port-au-Prince, where thousands of sachets of oral rehydration salts are distributed every week to Haitians suffering from acute diarrhea.
• Regular testing and chlorination of water at a household and community level has been a priority in our cholera response from the very beginning of the outbreak, coupled with aggressive public health information campaigns, the installation of hand-washing stations, and emergency latrine construction.
• The latest additions to our field response team, the cholera surveillance staff, help us to combat the heavy stigma surrounding the disease, seeking out camp and community residents who may be suffering cholera symptoms but are too afraid to seek help.