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Priority In Haiti Now Is Saving Lives During Cholera Epidemic, Says PAHO Director

Prompt treatment, improved living conditions, and proper hygiene practices are the top priorities for PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), local health authorities, international agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), said Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of PAHO. Dr. Roses stressed the urgent importance of clean drinking water, safe food, raising public awareness on how to combat the spread of cholera, and “building a solid water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti,”

Dr. Roses met today with various government, private and faith-based groups, which are all responding to Haiti’s cholera epidemic. Dr. Roses thanked them for their support and emphasized that the Haitian leadership is crucial in this crisis.

Dr. Roses said:

“The capacity of NGOs is fundamental in assistance to the country. But national and local leaders must be in the driver’s seat because they will remain after the crisis.”

Roses added that a significant number of agencies are “overwhelmed in this disaster.” The January earthquake, which destroyed or overstretched much of the country’s health, water and sanitation services, as well as making millions of people homeless, created the ideal ingredients for a serious cholera epidemic. Add to all this the recent flooding from Hurricane Tomas, and resources have been stretched beyond the limit.

Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, who works at PAHO, said that current priorities are:

  • Improved surveillance
  • Improved risk assessment
  • Rapid detection of hot spots
  • Rapid response to new hot spots
  • Good case management
  • Logistics and supplies
  • Extensive and effective broadcasting to properly educate the population on care and prevention

There are several rural areas which are difficult to get to that concern authorities and agencies particularly, Dr. Aldighieri added. He believes that approximately one-third of all community deaths are not being registered centrally, in other words, not reported.

PAHO Deputy Director Dr. Jon Andrus said his organization continues supplying and mobilizing experts in several fields of medicine and public health, including risk communication, case management, epidemiology, laboratory work, sanitation, logistics and supply management to the authorities of the two nations on the island, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

People on the ground are reporting that hospitals are rapidly running out of space. An MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders) 70-bed hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for example, says it is receiving 300 sick people each day. Caroline Seguin, MSF’s emergency coordinator says people are pouring in even though the hospital is completely full.

Kate Alberti, an epidemiologist with Epicentre, MSF’s epidemiological research center, said:

“While cholera and cholera-like symptoms can present very quickly and become life-threatening, unnecessary deaths can easily be averted with swift access to properly equipped and staffed facilities in close proximity to outbreak areas.”

MSF reports that in many areas safe drinking water is extremely scarce. They give an example of the Cite Soleil neighborhood which MSF provides with 280,000 liters of water per day – enough for 14,000 people, but “far below the requirements of the neighborhood’s inhabitants.”

Charity organization, Oxfam, says it has 25 staff working non-stop in Petite Riviere. Their water, sanitation and hygiene program is supplying 100,000 desperate Haitians. The charity aims to move into Artibonite as well and provide safe drinking water, toilet facilities, and education on good hygiene practices.



One Response to “Priority In Haiti Now Is Saving Lives During Cholera Epidemic, Says PAHO Director”

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