Tuesday, December 7, 2010

COOPERATION CONTAINS THE CHOLERA EPIDEMIC

Gros Morne, Haiti.

The U.S. media is quick to point out poorly planned, uncoordinated or failed efforts of the Haitian Government, and non-governmental relief organizations, to respond to the crises in Haiti. In the press, Haiti has become a cliche for the mismanagement and misspending of relief funding. However, there has been much work accomplished in Haiti that is constructive, and, at times, heroic.

When the first cases of cholera were reported on October 19 in Saint-Marc, about 30 miles south of Gros Morne, the Alma Mater Hospital and the entire Gros Morne community responded promptly. Treatment tents were put up around the hospital and as newly diagnosed cholera patients were seen at the hospital, they were swiftly taken either to an oral rehydration area or, if more serious, to an area for intravenous and antibiotic therapy. Many hospital workers, including Medicine For Peace personnel, worked double duty and joined in the administering of treatment to stricken patients. When intravenous replacement fluid stores became low, the Daughters of Charity, a religious order from Spain, donated a large shipment of intravenous fluids. As the epidemic flared and our fifty bed hospital became overrun with patients, the Ministry of Health recruited Medicines-sans-Frontiere-France physicians to help in patient treatment. They came with more tents, cholera beds and latrines.

While treatment of ill patients is ongoing, a massive education campaign has also been undertaken to instruct citizens on proper water purification, waste disposal, hand washing and rapid presentation of affected individuals, especially children, to treatment centers. People have been encouraged to use safe water supply distribution centers in town. In the rural mountainous regions, a number of non-governmental organizations distributed 5 gallon containers with faucets (so the water was not touched) , and chlorine solution for the proper decontamination of potentially cholera-infected water. Food for the Poor bought a large water purification system which was installed at the most popular well in town by Water Missions International, a U.S. based organization.

By the first week in December, only a handful of cases were being admitted each day at Alma Mater Hospital and fewer cases were being treated in the rural clinics. The worst is clearly over in this region. The death toll is far less than expected, although we know that many patients died at home or on the way to receive treatment. Specials teams have been trained to properly treat and bury the dead.

But, for the families of the dead, there is no consolation in knowing that the epidemic could have been worse.

-M.Viola