Red Cross urges readiness for cholera threat in Haiti

Topics: National, Americas
June 19, 2012

 

(Ottawa) – An advocacy report (PDF, 441kb) launched today by the International Red Cross Movement in Haiti is urging humanitarian actors to prepare for a major cholera outbreak in the country.

“There is a significant probability of a major cholera emergency in Haiti in the coming months, but resources have been severely diminished,” says Conrad Sauvé, secretary general of the Canadian Red Cross. “The Red Cross is concerned that the recent decline in humanitarian funding has reduced healthcare providers’ capacity to face a resurgence of cholera in the country.”

An increase in cholera cases has been reported in the Artibonite, Nord-Ouest, Nord-Est, and Ouest Departments, on the island of Gonave, and in displaced camps in Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities. The Pan American Health Organization estimates there could be 170,000 new cases diagnosed by the end of 2012.

At the peak of the epidemic in June 2011, 2,500 beds for treatment were available in the country. Today, most of the existing 814 beds are already occupied. Haitian authorities have limited capacity to respond to an outbreak. The integration of cholera treatment within existing health infrastructures and the National Surveillance and Alert System remain limited. The report warns that “the very real threat of a cholera epidemic is looming and could cost countless lives if the response capacity is not stepped up.”

“There is an urgent need to call on relevant government departments to carry out a thorough assessment of the number of available medical facilities that are able to treat patients so that gaps in provisions can be clearly identified”, says Dr. Balla Conde, Red Cross emergency health delegate. “Hygiene promotion activities in camps must be scaled up and water committees must also receive greater support. In addition, it is essential that chlorination of water in camps be carefully monitored to ensure basic standards are met.”

The Red Cross is working on a Cholera Contingency Plan in co-ordination with the government and other partners. Emergency stockpiles of medicines and equipment are on standby in the country. Medical facilities deployed during the peak of the epidemic, including the Canadian Red Cross field hospital, have remained in Haiti and are ready to be released should cases continue to increase. Current funds allow the Red Cross to deploy a hygiene promotion team of 34 persons in 21 displaced camps.

The number of trained Red Cross community health workers will also be increased to help respond to potential cases, while hygiene promotion activities for vulnerable groups, particularly in camps, will be scaled up. Information campaigns for the general population, combining SMS, sound trucks and radio will support the work of community volunteers and provide people with simple measures to stay healthy.

In December 2010 the Red Cross reached hundreds of thousands of people with hygiene promotion activities, clean and safe drinking water, hygiene kits and soap. In addition, a series of oral rehydration posts and cholera treatment centres were set up throughout Haiti. At the peak of the outbreak the Red Cross sent out 10.5 million SMS messages to people Haiti-wide with advice on how to avoid cholera.