Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis
Washington, DC, November 15, 2010 (PAHO) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) hosted a meeting today of its major partners working on the cholera epidemic in Haiti to discuss the most pressing needs on the ground and to coordinate actions for a more effective and efficient response.
PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses said the top priorities in Haiti right now are saving lives through prompt treatment of patients as well as improving living conditions to make Haitians are less vulnerable to cholera.
“We really need action on potable water, safe food, education, and building a solid water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti,” said Dr. Roses.
Participants in today’s meeting included a wide range of government, private and faith-based groups that are supporting Haiti’s response to cholera. Dr. Roses noted the importance of their support but also highlighted the importance of Haitian leadership.
“The capacity of NGOs is fundamental in assistance to the country,” said Dr. Roses. “But national and local leaders must be in the driver’s seat because they will remain after the crisis.”
Noting that many agencies are “overwhelmed in this disaster,” she said the January earthquake “worsened the situation with the huge numbers of displaced persons and breaks in water, sanitation and health services.” The cholera outbreak and flooding from Hurricane Tomas made things even more difficult, she said.
PAHO’s Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri gave participants an update on developments in the outbreak and the Haitian national response strategy to protect families at the community level with health promotion, manage cholera cases at the family and community level, and to reorganize health services with new Cholera Treatment Centers and Cholera Treatment Units in existing health facilities.
He noted that current priorities are improved surveillance and risk assessment, with timely identification of “hot spots” triggering quick responses, good case management, logistics and supplies, and information and social communication to educate people on care.
Dr. Aldighieri said he was especially concerned about cholera in remote rural areas with difficult access, noting that estimates show one-third of community deaths from cholera are not being reported.
Representatives from the American Red Cross, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, UNICEF, the Canadian International Development Agency, World Concern Development Organization, UNAIDS, International Medical Corps, and others discussed some of the challenges they face in Haiti and their responses and needs.
PAHO continues to mobilize international experts in epidemiology, risk communication, case management, laboratory, water and sanitation, logistics, and supply management systems to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, noted PAHO Deputy Director Dr. Jon Andrus.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by exposition, ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts. Worldwide, there are an estimated 3–5 million cholera cases and 100,000–120,000 deaths due to cholera every year. Provision of safe water and sanitation is critical to reducing the impact of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
PAHO’s Dr. James Fitzgerald described the actions of PROMESS (“Programme de Médicaments Essentiels”), the main provider of essential medicines and medical supplies in Haiti. He said PROMESS already has 2 million sachets of Oral Rehydration Salts, used to treat dehydration from cholera, in the pipeline, and is working to obtain 2,000 more cholera beds and water disinfection supplies.
For more information on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti
- PAHO-Haiti on radio and tv cholera program (In French and Creole) Part I - Part II
- PROMESS, NGO's and Hospitals continue to function as if there was no hurricane
- Cholera in the Americas
- The Seventh Epidemic