Looking beyond the tragedy: building healthier communities

In October 2010, ten months after the huge earthquake struck Haiti, the country was once again hit with another catastrophe: cholera. A disease not seen here for over 100 years quickly spread to all ten departments of Haiti. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ongoing Haiti outbreak is the worst epidemic of cholera in recent history.

As of August 2013, the epidemic has killed at least 8,231 Haitians and hospitalized hundreds of thousands more while spreading to neighbouring countries including the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Since the outbreak began in October 2010, more than 6 per cent of Haitians have had the disease.

The outbreak began in mid-October 2010 in the rural Center Department of Haiti, about 100 kilometres north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, killing 4,672 people by March 2011 and hospitalising thousands more.

The response, both locally and internationally, was massive. Cholera treatment centres and units were set up across the country, awareness and hygiene prevention messages were posted and broadcast in the media in an effort to stem the alarming number of new cases.

More than 250,000 individuals received oral rehydration solution in the framework of hygiene promotion activities. Haiti Red Cross Society volunteers and staff were trained on disinfection, good hygiene behaviours and cholera patient management. A long-term strategy to tackle the disease through community-based health and first aid and epidemiologic control programmes, was devised ensuring volunteers were well-trained and confident in their skills.

In June 2012, the Ministry of Public Health, with the support of the Red Cross, launched a cholera vaccination campaign in the Artibonite region of the country. Approximately 50,000 people were vaccinated.

Lecienne Beausejour, 40, was among those in the area that received the cholera vaccine.

“The whole family was vaccinated,” she says. “I just want to make sure that we are safe from the disease.”

Lecienne has lived in the community of Frecyneau, 10 miles away from Saint Marc, for the past 17 years and remembers how it was when cholera appeared in the area.

“People were confused because they didn’t know what was happening. All we knew was that people were dying,” she says.

Luckily, no one in Lecienne’s family contracted the disease. She thanks the Red Cross and the hygiene promotion messages received through the volunteers working in the area for giving her the life-saving information she needed to keep her four children and husband safe.

Unable to work due to an intestinal operation last year, Lecienne has become a Red Cross volunteer herself and spends her days educating people on sanitation and hygiene safety measures. She also conducts door-to-door visits in her community to make sure that people are following the sanitation guidelines that they have been taught.

“I think it is important to remind people what they have to do in order to prevent cholera and that the disease is still present even if it isn’t as bad as it was before.”