Going forward with elections in Haiti this Sunday is not expected to increase the spread of cholera, a top official at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) said today.
Educational posters on prevention and treatment will be displayed at polling places
Washington, D.C., November 25, 2010 (PAHO) — Going forward with elections in Haiti this Sunday is not expected to increase the spread of cholera, a top official at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) said today.
Cholera is transmitted almost exclusively through fecal contamination of water and food, noted Dr. Jon K. Andrus, PAHO’s Deputy Director. Cholera is not a communicable disease, such as influenza or the common cold, which can be passed among people in close contact via coughs or sneezes.
“The kind of movement and congregating you see with people going to vote is not the kind of movement that creates an increased risk of cholera transmission,” Andrus said. “Close contact does not put people at greater risk of cholera the way it would, for example, for flu.”
Cholera has spread rapidly in Haiti due to poor sanitation and water infrastructure as well as associated behaviors such as defecating in the open instead of in a latrine, Andrus said.
To stem cholera’s spread, health and relief workers have been working to provide potable water supplies and chlorine tablets to Haitian families and communities. They have also been distributing oral rehydration salts, which can prevent severe illness and death from cholera if administered promptly.
In addition, the Haitian government is disseminating prevention messages through the mass media and through public education materials that encourage hand washing, safe food handling and prompt treatment for people who have symptoms.
To further encourage prevention, PAHO/WHO is providing 22,000 educational posters for distribution to voting places around the country. The posters, produced in collaboration with Haiti’s Ministry of Health, describe how to prevent cholera and what to do if one becomes ill. They are being distributed by the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as part of its efforts to support the elections.
Meanwhile, the cholera epidemic continues to spread, and Haiti’s Ministry of Health has confirmed cases in all 10 of the country’s departments. PAHO/WHO experts believe that official case counts significantly undercount cholera’s toll, due to gaps in the surveillance system.
PAHO/WHO’s country office in Port-au-Prince has reported that the spreading epidemic has put increased pressure on newly established Cholera Treatment Centers, which are intended to provide medical care for severe cases. More work needs to be done at the family and community level to encourage treatment at home with oral rehydration salts or at a local community health center, to prevent cases from becoming too severe.
PAHO/WHO is coordinating with dozens of other international and nongovernmental organizations in the response to cholera to ensure the prompt acquisition and distribution of medical supplies. Last weekend, PAHO/WHO, in coordination with Haiti’s Ministry of Health and the World Food Program, distributed 87 tons of essential medicines and supplies via truck and helicopter in nine departments of the country. The supplies were intended to replenished stocks in areas already affected by the epidemic and to prepositioned supplies sufficient to treat about one-third of the expected cases during the coming months. This week, PAHO/WHO and its partners have been distributing medical supplies to 23 hospitals and health centers in metropolitan Port-au-Prince.
PAHO/WHO is also providing training, technical cooperation and expertise to Haiti’s Ministry of Health and other partners in areas including epidemiology and surveillance, logistics, case management, laboratory, water and sanitation, and risk communication.
PAHO recently sent an alert to health officials in other Member States in Latin America and the Caribbean urging them to take steps to prepare for the possible arrival of cholera. PAHO recommended stepped-up surveillance, preparedness planning, improvements in water and sanitation, and increased public education.
For more information on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti