United States Responds to Cholera Outbreak in Haiti
By MacKenzie C. Babb
Washington — The U.S. government is working rapidly to respond to a cholera outbreak in northwestern Haiti that officials fear could lead to a countrywide epidemic.
“Everyone’s working aggressively because we understand the potential danger posed by this outbreak,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said to reporters October 22.
Crowley said cholera already had killed at least 150 people and infected more than 1,500 others and was continuing to spread.
An acute intestinal infection, cholera causes diarrhea and vomiting, and can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death. It is caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, and transmission is closely linked to inadequate sanitation and environmental management lapses.
“We’re providing oral rehydration salt treatment kits and we are helping with an intensive public health information campaign on hygiene and proper water sanitation,” Crowley said.
The consequences of a disaster such as the Haiti earthquake, including disruption of water and sanitation systems and the displacement of populations to inadequate and overcrowded camps, can increase the risk of cholera transmission if the bacteria are present or introduced.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is partnering with entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to respond to the cholera outbreak.
PAHO’s deputy director, Dr. Jon Andrus, said that in addition to treating those who have already been infected, efforts to improve health standards are key to preventing further spread of the disease.
“Ultimately, we want to prevent cases by implementing sound water and sanitation measures. Community mobilization and education on washing hands and safe water will be critical to stopping transmission,” Andrus said October 21.
So far, Haitian government officials have confirmed cases of cholera only in the northwestern Artibonite province, just north of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. However, Andrus said the disease will likely continue to spread. But he added that with proper treatment, such as intravenous hydration and antibiotics, mortality rates could decrease to less than 1 percent of those infected.
“The challenge for Haiti will be to ensure all severe infections are adequately cared for. One of the benefits of the response to the earthquake is that most people feel that citizens have better access to health services. This access will need to be further enhanced in the initial phases of this outbreak,” Andrus said.
In January, a powerful magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and causing catastrophic damage to Haiti’s infrastructure.
In the weeks and months after the earthquake, more than 1.5 million internally displaced Haitians settled in temporary sites throughout the country. Haiti’s Ministry of Health partnered with groups such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PAHO and the World Health Organization to address acute health needs and pervasive threats associated with crowded and unhygienic living conditions. The agencies established a system of disease surveillance using fixed health facilities and mobile clinics, which helped find these cases.
The cholera outbreak is the first of its kind in Haiti since the earthquake.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)