Cholera was first introduced to Haiti nearly six years ago, after the January 2010 earthquake near Port-au-Prince. The often fatal disease is an intestinal infection contracted through contaminated water sources. Destruction caused by disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes offers the perfect breeding ground for the disease: ruined infrastructure and limited hygiene allows the water to become infected and the disease to spread.
The first Haitian case was identified in the Artibonite River delta as a result of a UN Peacekeeper’s camp, and due to its rapid spread, it is now classified as a long term pandemic in the country.
Cholera is also dangerous because its symptoms can often go unnoticed for too long. It is not an immediate form of destruction caused by a natural disaster, and it can be weeks or months before it’s full effect on an area is recognized. The threat of cholera is still growing. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Haiti saw a 258% increase of cholera infections between 2015 and 2016.
In Southern Haiti, Saint Boniface is helping to lead the charge against the disease, whose threat has only heightened after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Saint Boniface CEO and President Conor Shapiro says, “ St. Boniface Haiti Foundation’s model of integrated community and hospital-based healthcare is fighting the disease on all fronts, but there is much work left to be done to end the danger from cholera in Haiti.”
When a patient arrives with cholera-like symptoms, the cholera diagnosis is confirmed, and the patient is immediately sent to an isolation tent and infection control protocols are implemented, so that they can receive care without threatening the health of those around them. Coming to the hospital should be an opportunity for treatment, and not an avenue for the disease to spread.
In addition to providing care at the hospital, we also dispatch Community Health teams to isolated villages who may be at-risk for the disease. Our teams travel to communities and provide them with education, water treatment kits, and oral rehydration salts. After Hurricane Matthew, we also launched a Mobile Clinic team that administers cholera vaccinations to populations who would otherwise not have access to the preventative medicine.