Responding to disasters is never easy, and the cholera outbreak in Haiti is no exception. The six-week-old outbreak has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Haitians and infected 80,000 others. Sadly, this illness will likely continue to spread for many months to come, and cholera will be present in Haiti for years.
Six weeks after joining USAID, I traveled to Haiti as part of the U.S. response to the cholera outbreak. I saw the worst of it: sick women and children, massive dehydration, and widespread fear.
I also saw signs of hope and reasons for the American people to be proud of our response to the outbreak. The Haitian Government is leading the charge against cholera, and the U.S. Government is coordinating with the international community to deliver life-saving supplies, train Haitian medical staff, and monitor the outbreak.
United States government assistance to the cholera outbreak has been a swift, coordinated multi-agency effort. We have collectively provided more than $21.5 million in assistance for the cholera outbreak in Haiti to date. As cholera continues to spread, the U.S. Government is focusing on both the prevention of and treatment for the disease.
On the prevention side, USAID is supporting a nationwide messaging campaign to promote better hygiene practices and increase public awareness of prevention and treatment of the disease. We are also training almost 7,500 community health workers and hygiene promoters across all 10 departments in Haiti.
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To further assist the Government of Haiti’s cholera prevention programs, USAID has already delivered or scheduled the delivery of much-needed cholera prevention supplies. These include:
- 30 metric tons of chlorine, which will provide nationwide treatment of Haiti’s water utilities for three months
- 15 million aquatabs, enough to help 750,000 people
- Nearly 63,000 family hygiene kits, to benefit 345,000 people
As the numbers of cholera patients increases, we are also increasing our cholera treatment activities. U.S. government funding has established 27 cholera treatment facilities, and we are working to bring an additional 37 facilities online as soon as possible.
To further increase treatment capacity, USAID delivered 25 cholera treatment kits to Port-au-Prince last week. These kits include items such as medical supplies, gloves, soap, and intravenous fluid, and the kits will help treat 10,000 moderate and severe cholera patients. These cholera kits are being placed at critical sites in underserved and remote, rural areas in each of Haiti’s 10 departments.
USAID is also providing supplies to aid in the treatment of cholera. The following supplies are already in country or planned for staggered arrival through the month of January:
- 5.3 million ORS sachets, which will benefit an estimated 530,000 people
- 600,000 liters of ringer’s lactate, which will benefit 75,000 patients
- 2,000 cholera beds
NGOs, donors, and other members of the international community are also mobilizing to help curb the spread of this epidemic. Tragically, it will be nearly impossible to fully stop the course of this epidemic. The earthquake exacerbated Haiti’s weak sanitation systems and health infrastructure, making it particularly susceptible to disease outbreaks. Cholera is also a new disease for Haitians, so their immune system is more vulnerable than those populations where cholera is endemic.
Our goal is first to ensure every Haitian receives information about how to prevent infection and how to recognize the early symptoms of cholera. Secondly, we are determined to reduce both fatalities and the number of severe cases that require hospitalization. We’re already seeing progress. Early in the outbreak, about 9 percent of hospitalized cholera cases were fatal. In the latest reports from Haiti’s Ministry of Health, that figure is down to 3.5 percent.
To say 2010 was a challenging year for Haiti would be a brash understatement. An earthquake, hurricane, and disease outbreak would test the mettle of any population, but Haitians are confronting these challenges head on, and they’re doing it with unprecedented resolve and tenacity.