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Red Cross Ramps Up Cholera Education Campaign


With hundreds of thousands of Haitians at risk due to a growing cholera epidemic, the Red Cross is ramping up its public health campaign. More than 1,000 trained Haitian Red Cross volunteers have now fanned out across the country in order to provide important and potentially lifesaving tips about maintaining good hygiene.

These face-to-face interactions have been reinforced by more than 2 million text messages sent by the Red Cross since the early days of the outbreak to approximately 380,000 cell phone users in the worst affected region of Artibonite and in Port-au-Prince. The Red Cross is also using weekly radio broadcasts (Radio Croix-Rouge haitienne), special advertisements and sound trucks to spread cholera prevention messages far and wide and as quickly as possible.

In response to this campaign, more than 75,000 people have called a toll free Red Cross information line for more detailed advice on avoiding cholera. This appears to indicate that more than 20 percent of those reached through this campaign have called this information line. The number could actually be much higher as the capacity of the info line was quickly exceeded.

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“Given that cholera is now in Port-au-Prince, and given the sharp rise in cases in recent days, it is understandable that there is such a focus on treatment,” says Marcel Fortier, the head of the Haiti delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “But treatment is only a part of the response.”

“Prevention is even more important, and we know that people are crying out for basic information on what can be done to avoid infection.”

For months before the cholera outbreak happened, the Red Cross had already been working in camps in Port-au-Prince to educate tens of thousands of residents about health and good hygiene. Those efforts have since been ramped up since the cholera outbreak began, and the American Red Cross has nearly doubled the number of health promoters on its teams, to nearly 200 people.

“The American Red Cross has been actively promoting good health and hygiene in the camps of Port-au-Prince for many months," says Matt Marek, Deputy Country Director for the American Red Cross. "Now, with the threat of a major cholera outbreak looming, we have stepped up our prevention efforts and focused our specifically on cholera prevention messages. Going tent by tent through the camps, we hope to reach many vulnerable people who might not otherwise have access to this information.”

One of the health promotion teams visited the community of Bois Moquet on Wednesday afternoon to spread messages about cholera prevention. Two young promoters stopped to chat with Rania Mace Rochambeau, a 49-year-old market vendor. Sitting under a tarp beside the huge pile of charcoal she was selling, with a pair of small goats grazing nearby, she listened intently as the Red Cross team talked to her about the disease and watched her wash her hands thoroughly with soap and water. “I want to protect myself,” said Mrs Rochambeau. “I’ve heard about this cholera. I want to keep my children safe.”

During the cholera outbreak, the Red Cross network has also continued to distribute more than 660,000 gallons of clean water across Port-au-Prince every day.

As of November 17th, the Haitian government reported that the cholera outbreak had killed 1,110 people, and another 18,383 people had been hospitalized with the disease.