Red Cross Responds to Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

Oct 23, 2010, 15:00 ET from American Red Cross

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Oct. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Red Cross is extremely concerned about an outbreak of cholera in northern Haiti, and is assisting in the rapid response by the Red Cross network. As of Saturday morning, the government was reporting 2,364 people infected and 194 deaths following an outbreak of acute diarrhea in the Artibonite and Central Plateau regions of Haiti. This is not an area directly affected by the earthquake of January 12th, but the Red Cross is concerned about the speed with which this outbreak has spread.

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The Red Cross network has launched a rapid and coordinated response, putting personnel on the ground in the affected area, trucking in urgently needed medical supplies and water, and broadcasting emergency messages about cholera prevention via radio and text messaging.

The Red Cross response to this crisis began several days ago. On Wednesday, October 20 a Red Cross truck loaded with medical supplies was sent to a hospital in St Marc that is handling many of the cholera cases. These supplies included IV fluids, oral serum, antibiotics, first aid kits, and water filters.

On Friday, October 22, another two trucks departed Port-au-Prince carrying 24,000 liters of clean water, drums of chlorine, cholera kits, surgical masks and gloves, as well as large tents and sleeping mats to increase the hospital's capacity. Teams of Red Cross health and water/sanitation experts are standing by to assist as needed, and about 340 Red Cross health promoters – staff trained to educate the population about health and hygiene – are being mobilized in and around the affected areas of Petite Riviere and St Marc.

On Saturday, October 23, the Red Cross network is sending several more trucks to the affected area with two water treatment units capable of treating 6,000 people per day, 8,000 water purification tablets, water bladders, 200 disinfectant sprayers, drums of chlorine, three large tents to support the hospital in St Marc, and hygiene promotion material including 3,000 hygiene kits.

The American Red Cross, which has been running the largest health promotion effort in the camps of Port-au-Prince for several months, has offered support by making available it health and water/sanitation experts, and has provided large quantities of chlorine to support water treatment operations so clean water can be supplied to the affected areas for drinking as well as cleaning purposes. In the coming days, health promotion teams will focus their efforts on tent-by-tent discussions with camp residents about cholera.

In addition, a mass communication effort has been launched to inform the population about the causes, symptoms and means of preventing cholera. On Thursday, October 21, the Red Cross network began sending SMS text messages to people in the affected region advising them on good hygiene and sanitation practices. Two text messages per day will be sent to the affected region in the coming days.

In addition this weekend the Red Cross network is doing emergency radio broadcasts throughout all of Haiti focusing on prevention, treatment and symptoms of cholera.

The International Committee for the Red Cross has focused its support on prisons, and will dispatch supplies to St Marc, Mirebalais, Hinche and Gonaives. Supplies include medical and cleaning items, such as oral rehydration solutions, masks, gloves, tarpaulins and sodium chloride.

The Red Cross is working closely with the government's Ministry of Health and Department of Civil Protection to support local health and water systems in response to this outbreak. The Red Cross is also coordinating its response with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations in Haiti.

The Haitian Ministry of Health said tests had confirmed the disease outbreak is cholera. United Nations officials say the Artibonite River is the suspected source, as most of the cases have occurred in an area in the interior of Haiti along the river, north and northwest of Port-au-Prince. The town of St Marc has been severely affected. In an effort to control the spread of disease, the government has imposed a sanitary cordon around the affected area.

Symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pains. Patients have died within three or four hours of symptoms starting, and children are especially vulnerable.

SOURCE American Red Cross