About the Author: Preeti Shah serves as a Public Affairs Officer in the Haiti Special Coordinator's Office.
About 10 months have passed since a massive earthquake devastated much of the small Caribbean country of Haiti. Since that time, the Haitians, their government, and the international community rolled up their proverbial sleeves and dove into the task of bringing Haiti back to its feet.
And then cholera broke out. In response to what was rapidly identified by the Haitian government as an outbreak of potentially significant proportions, a team of nations, international organizations, and NGOs immediately focused on bringing in personnel, and deploying stocks of medical supplies and hygiene kits to begin treating victims of the disease.
Cholera flourishes in areas where sanitation systems are poor, where hand washing doesn't happen often enough, and when food and water contamination happens all-too-frequently. Unfortunately, these conditions exist throughout much of Haiti, and they were exacerbated by the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
However, it is also easily treated through use of oral rehydration solutions and community-level health clinics, and prevented through changes in hygiene practices and access to clean drinking water.
It quickly became clear that a coordinated response was not only important, but also vital to ensuring a rapid and cohesive response to assist the government of Haiti's efforts to slow down the transmission and to treat the victims. We are focusing on four major areas of response that include: providing clean drinking water, either via chlorinating the municipal water supply or providing AquaTabs to rural Haitians; providing oral rehydration salts to those stricken with cholera; providing access to treatment facilities to those in need of them; and conducting a strong public education program about cholera prevention and treatment.
All U.S. government agencies in Haiti began collaborating on this dual mission of prevention and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance sent rapid response teams to Haiti. In addition to personnel, we immediately began the important campaign to educate Haitians about how to prevent transmission, and how to identify and treat cholera if infected. Using every means available, this campaign has spanned radio, SMS, sound trucks, pamphlets, as well as the training and mobilization of community health workers carrying the message about clean water, clean hands, and clean homes.
Through USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, over $9 million (as of November 18) has been contributed for specific efforts to prevent and treat cholera and slow the spread of the disease. This is in addition to the over $1 billion in earthquake assistance the U.S. government has provided to date, which is already working to improve water and sewage systems, as well as long-term public health planning. New cholera treatment facilities, staffed by CDC-trained health workers, have opened and are stocked with oral rehydration salts, IVs, and cholera cots donated by the United States, as well as international partners and NGOs.
CDC experts predict that cholera will remain a public health concern in Haiti for several years, though the initial and early phases are usually the most challenging in terms of new cases. We will continue to work alongside the government of Haiti, our international partners, and the NGO community to combat this outbreak and help Haiti continue its path of recovery.