Humanitarian Community Mobilized to Prevent Spread
NEW YORK, Oct. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This morning, Haitian President Rene Preval confirmed an outbreak of cholera in the rural Artibonite region of the country, with 142 deaths reported and an estimated 1,000 people infected. Artibonite, approximately 60 miles from Port-au-Prince, was affected by the devastating January 12th earthquake, and currently hosts thousands of displaced people who lost their homes in the quake.
The Haitian government, along with the international humanitarian community and global health officials, have feared a cholera outbreak since the early days following the massive earthquake that left an estimated 1.2 million homeless and living in tent cities, with poor access to sanitation and clean water.
Largely due to coordinated efforts of aid agencies, the UN, and the Haitian government, to date there have been no large-scale outbreaks or increase in deaths in Port-au-Prince from waterborne illnesses, and no confirmed cases of cholera. This is hugely noteworthy, especially in the many overcrowded camps, where poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water were a major challenge. In Artibonite, the humanitarian community is responding rapidly—working closely with the Haitian government to set up cholera treatment centers and sensitization campaigns, and reinforcing outbreak preparedness efforts to prevent the disease from spreading to Port-au-Prince or surrounding areas.
Concern Worldwide Overseas Director Paul O'Brien stressed the seriousness of this outbreak as well as the preparedness measures the international community has had in place since the early days following the earthquake: "Cholera is highly infectious and is a significant health risk in most refugee and displaced populations, especially in circumstances when people come from or pass through a cholera-affected area. The humanitarian community has been working closely with the Haitian government since the early days after earthquake to prevent an epidemic in Port-au-Prince, where huge numbers of people were at risk and extremely vulnerable." Says O'Brien, "Our coordinated efforts thus far to prevent a major public health crisis from developing in Port-au-Prince have been successful. We are now working to support partners responding to the outbreak in Artibonite, while at the same time re-doubling water treatment and other prevention efforts to prevent the outbreak from spreading to Port-au-Prince."
Early detection, treatment protocols, cholera treatment units, health and hygiene awareness campaigns to at-risk populations, and measures to protect water supplies and sanitation are among the top priorities for any cholera response.
Elke Leidel, Concern Country Director in Haiti, says, "Right now, prevention is possible: our teams in Port-au-Prince are distributing water purification tablets and we are increasing chlorination of water supplies. We have also already launched an intense public health and sensitization campaign to prevent at-risk communities from becoming infected. Alerting people living in overcrowded camps to boil their drinking water, use water purification tablets, wash their hands with soap, and where to seek treatment at the first signs of illness – these are simple messages, but they can save lives."
Concern is currently providing clean water and sanitation (such as showers and latrines) to over 80,000 people in Port-au-Prince, and is reaching 130,000 people in Saut d'Eau and La Gonave with a rural recovery program that includes water and sanitation, shelter, and livelihoods. In addition to the other activities, Concern will also be broadcasting public health messages on the radio on an hourly basis in Saut d'Eau. (Saut d'Eau is in the Central Plateau, adjacent to Artibonite.)
Concern is coordinating with other lead agencies on active public health and preventative strategies. We are supporting our Alliance 2015 partner, ACTED, who are working in Artibonite. Concern has a team of over 400 staff working in Haiti, and has current emergency response and long-term recovery programs in health, nutrition, education, camp management, water and sanitation, and livelihoods.
Concern works in 28 of the world's poorest countries, including 17 sub-Saharan African nations, and reaches some 25 million people. The organization's goal is the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty and the reduction of suffering. The organization's programs focus on emergency relief and long-term development work in the areas of health, HIV and AIDS, livelihoods and education.
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