Haiti: Cholera Outbreak Response



“Cholera is not endemic to Haiti, so people are getting very sick, very fast after contracting it,” explains Patrica Munday, AMURTEL’s program coordinator in Haiti.She is part of an AMURTEL medical team that travelled ecently to remote areas hit by the cholera epidemic, which has claimed thousands of lives and could affect another 400,000 according to the US CDC.

AMURTEL’s mobile medical team has seen 12,000 patients since the earthquake in January 2010, and continues to serve the most needy. In addition, AMURTEL community organisers  work in the tent settlements to promote disease prevention there.

AMURTEL medical doctor examines cholera victim


“The most important thing is to act fast”, says Munday, recollecting her experience. “When we arrived at night, the local doctor didn’t tell us he had cases already. Unfortunately, some were dead next morning.”

The clinics are headed by a volunteer medical practitioner from Boston, Dr. Marc Luis. Dr. Luis will tell you people die not from cholera itself, but from associated dehydration. Oral rehydration salts are the key to treatment. He says stocks are running short and the price has sky-rocketed.

Small outposts are desperate for supplies. “When they saw us they wanted to take everything we had”, Ornelia, a volunteer from Spain, recalls of the drive through one village, “so we had to go very fast. It was a
moment of tension.”

The outbreak was confirmed on October 21, amidst confusion. “We train villagers but also local medical staff”, says Munday. “At one hospital they were receiving people just to die – they didn’t know what to do.”

“The first cases were in Artibonite”, says Munday, referring to the river valley that had 35,000 infections in the first month. The river’s source in forests of the Dominican Republic means it’s one of the few in Haiti that flows connsistently, so it’s also the primary food-producing region. That raises further concerns: the UN says “initial assessments suggest food security and agricultural planning have been affected.” Also, distribution of
contaminated food could trigger new outbreaks.

The cholera bacteria spread when faeces from an infected person contaminates the water people drink or the food people eat. Prevention is straightforward if hygiene is good and water available. But only 25% have running water, and many have no health facilities.