Doctors are making great strides in combating a disease that, until the earthquake hit, hadn’t been seen in Haiti in at least a century.
Since returning to his home town of Borgne, Dr. Thony Voltaire has overseen its transformation from a place whose hospital was in ruins to a forerunner in the fight against cholera. "Before, we used to go to other [towns] to get health treatments, but now it is the opposite and it is other people who come to us.”
In 2005, Borgne—located in northern Haiti—had one functional health center run by the community organization Haiti Outreach Pwojè Espwa (H.O.P.E.). The hospital had neither water nor electricity and employed only two medical staff: one doctor and one health auxiliary. The situation worsened when the hospital’s only doctor passed away. ''When I came back the hospital had no administrative structure, offered very little services and the building was in ruins,” recalls Dr. Voltaire.
For the young practitioner, those first months back in Borgne were extremely challenging. Managing the influx of patients was the most difficult part. ''The first six to eight months were terrible. I had more than 100 cases per day,'' remembers the doctor. But persistence pays off and over the years, Dr. Voltaire—now the Medical Director of H.O.P.E./ASB—increased the town’s medical capacity with mobile clinics, laboratory services and even a pharmacy.
When a massive earthquake struck in 2010 and Haiti experienced a cholera outbreak nine months later, Dr. Voltaire and H.O.P.E. faced another seemingly insurmountable challenge.
The American Red Cross stepped in to help H.O.P.E. combat cholera in and around Borgne. The partnership—part of $19 million that the Red Cross has spent fighting cholera in Haiti—initially focused on dispatching cholera treatment units and oral rehydration points to help people survive the disease. The partners also raised awareness about cholera prevention, by promoting things like proper hand-washing.
In the long-term, access to clean water and sanitation is a key factor in the fight against cholera. So with a Red Cross water and sanitation team by its side, H.O.P.E has been able to make improvements to sanitation infrastructure in Borgne—constructing latrines, along with treating cholera patients and delivering life-saving messages about healthy sanitation practices.
Borgne isn’t the only town in Haiti that is improving sanitation infrastructure for its residents. In fact, since the earthquake struck, the Red Cross has helped provide more than 556,000 people with increased access to clean water and sanitation.
Thanks to Red Cross support, H.O.P.E. has been able to launch mobile hospitals and clinics to reach remote communities. Teams of doctors and nurses embark on week-long treks through the most inaccessible villages of Borgne to connect with patients who would otherwise not have access to care.
Dr. Voltaire admits that despite progress, his vision for more and better healthcare for Borgne’s residents just keeps growing. The effects of Haiti’s earthquake will likely be felt for years to come—both in and outside of the capital city. But with the enthusiasm of health professionals like Dr. Voltaire and support from the Red Cross, towns like Borgne will continue to rebuild as healthier and stronger communities.
Throughout Haiti, Red Cross programs have reached nearly 3.2 million people through cholera prevention and outbreak response services.