In October 2010, the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population announced the detection of cholera in the Artibonite Department, located north of Port-Au-Prince. After enduring a devastating earthquake in January 2010, the cholera epidemic hit like a knock-out punch.
Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused by a bacteria that spreads rapidly through contaminated water. When people get cholera, they get very sick, very fast, and the risk of death is high if left untreated. A matter of hours can make a difference.
In Haiti, cholera attacked a population with no previous exposure and therefore no immunity against the bacteria. Before this outbreak, Haiti had not been affected by cholera in over a century. Over the last two and half years, 658,053 people have contracted cholera in Haiti, and 8,120 have died.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.4 billion people are at risk of getting cholera every year, and annually 2.8 million cases of cholera occur globally. Since cholera spreads via contaminated water, it thrives in post-disaster environments. Even in the United States, post Hurricane Katrina, emergency personnel attended to many people infected with a bacteria closely related to cholera.
The increased risk of infectious diseases is a recurrent public health concern in post-disaster situations. In the U.S., we have the infrastructure needed to detect and respond to outbreaks, to stop their spread. In Haiti, USAID is working to strengthen the Ministry of Health’s capacity to detect and control infectious diseases and provide timely life-saving care. USAID is committed to assisting the Government of Haiti to combat this epidemic.
When tackling an outbreak of this magnitude, it is essential to work with key partners to leverage each other’s strengths. Today, USAID became an official member of the Coalition on Water and Sanitation for the Elimination of Cholera in Hispaniola. To add to the ongoing efforts of the Pan American Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF and other strategic partners, USAID has pledged to support the Government of Haiti’s plan to eliminate cholera from Hispaniola.
USAID’s current work already contributes to this goal through many different avenues that focus on cholera prevention as well as treatment and control. Since contaminated water is the source of cholera, USAID works via its implementing partners to ensure that Haitians have access to safe drinking water at their homes, health centers and schools and makes safe water products available for water decontamination. Since the beginning of the outbreak, USAID programs have mobilized thousands of community workers throughout Haiti to conduct awareness activities that focus on hygiene and sanitation practices that help prevent cholera.
When someone falls ill of cholera, it is important to recognize signs of dehydration and have swift access to treatment. USAID trains mothers and caregivers to recognize these dangerous signs and use oral rehydration products. If medical attention is needed, USAID’s extensive network of health facilities, present throughout the country, has the necessary resources and training to manage this disease.
USAID will continue to work in partnership with the Government of Haiti to improve the health of all Haitians and will coordinate extensively with members of the Coalition to leverage our efforts to eliminate cholera from Hispaniola.