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Red Cross Continues Cholera Response Following Hurricane Tomas


While Haiti was spared the worst feared impacts of Hurricane Tomas over the weekend, the storm brought heavy rains and flooding to other parts of the country, including the area north of Port-au-Prince that is the center of a serious cholera outbreak.

The Red Cross among a number of other aid organizations are concerned that the outbreak will spread and are therefore continuing large-scale cholera prevention and response activities in the affected region and Port-au-Prince.

Flooding poses a new threat from this water-borne disease and officials from the Haitian Ministry of Health reported on Monday that the number of cholera deaths had risen to 544 over the weekend, with more than 8,000 people hospitalized for the disease. Late Monday, reports surfaced that a new batch of potential cholera cases had surfaced in Port-au-Prince and were being tested. Another reason for a possible spread of cholera is the fact that an untold number of people in the capital and countryside evacuated their homes ahead of the hurricane and moved to other parts of the country.

To combat this epidemic, the Red Cross global network has established a cholera treatment center in Arcahie, northwest of Port-au-Prince, to respond to the growing epidemic that threatens millions of Haitians, and plans two additional cholera treatment centers in other parts of the country.

“The first day we had 19 cases,” says Red Cross nurse Ann-Christine Shulz, “today we had 47, so the number of cases is increasing.”

But Shultz and others here aren’t sure if that’s because cholera is spreading or if word of this treatment center is spreading which is attracting more patients who otherwise would have suffered at home and likely died.

For the two hundred patients that have so far come to the treatment center with symptoms of cholera, it has been a quick process to get them connected to IVs and drinking rehydration solutions.

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For patients like 20 year-old cholera Faina Vilgrena, cholera has already had a profound impact.

“Her one year-old son died yesterday from cholera,” explains her cousin, Wilner Masclin, as Faina lies motionless on the cot behind him. “We brought her in this morning, but she is still really sick.”

Wilner said he didn’t know where his cousin got sick, but admits that the disease has him worried. “It’s a big problem,” he says, “I didn’t worry about it before, but I am worrying about it now.”

The direct response to this outbreak has also included provision of emergency personnel, supplies like cots and intravenous solution, chlorine to purify water and other support in the affected regions.

“The American Red Cross and the Red Cross network are working hard to help contain the outbreak of cholera,” said Ricardo Caivano, Country Director for the American Red Cross in Haiti. “By providing urgently needed medical supplies and emergency response personnel, as well as spreading the word about cholera prevention, we’re tackling this disease on multiple fronts.”

The Red Cross has been working for months to educate the camp populations about health and good hygiene, and has further ramped up those efforts with the cholera outbreak. Health promotion teams have temporarily doubled in size, to about 200 promoters, and the Red Cross expects to directly reach hundreds of thousands of people with cholera prevention messages within a month.

These face-to-face interactions have been reinforced by millions of text messages sent to about 380,000 cell phone users by the Red Cross network, as well as radio broadcasts.

The Red Cross network has also been distributing more than 660,000 gallons of clean water across Port-au-Prince every day for months.

Meanwhile, assessment teams from the American Red Cross and partners in the Red Cross network were out in Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country as weather permitted over the weekend, surveying the extent of damage and relief needs.

These reports show flooding in parts of Port-au-Prince, where some camps of earthquake survivors were evacuated. Needs have been identified among some displaced people for water, replacement tarps, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits, and the Red Cross is working to meet those needs along with aid partners. The good news is that in these camps, there were few reported casualties and most tarps and tents survived the storm.

Elsewhere in the country, major rivers were swollen by the rain and thousands of homes flooded. Heavy flooding affected Leogane – another city badly impacted by the January earthquake – as well as Gonaives.

The Red Cross is relieved that months of effort to prepare for hurricane season helped protect many vulnerable people living under tarps and tents. The American Red Cross has worked directly with tens of thousands of camp residents on disaster preparedness and risk reduction since May.

Thanks to the generosity of the American people following the January earthquake, the American Red Cross anticipates having the funds necessary to respond to these emergencies. We encourage those interested in recovery efforts in Haiti to visit www.redcross.org/haiti for updates on the Red Cross response. If you wish to support the American Red Cross with its response to about 70,000 disasters each year, please visit www.redcross.org.