Living With Cholera

The good news is the biggest fear was averted: the epidemic spread of cholera across the crowded slums has not yet happened.  It still could, but steps toward prevention are possible.  The bad news is that cholera is now in Haiti.  A year ago, with all the problems Haitian villagers faced each day, the cholera bacteria was not present.  Now it is. The doctor in Boileau says matter-of-factly, “Cholera is here.  We have to learn to live with it.”  We are working with the doctor at our clinic in Boileau to expand cholera prevention.

The fear, of course, is that they really do not have the basic tools to protect against the threat of rapid transmission.  The school in Boileau is a perfect example.  Every day, more than 800 students and teachers from different households gather at school.  If any of them bring the bacteria with them, the risk of spreading is very high since there are no hand-washing facilities.  In turn, if a student or teacher carries the bacteria home, the risk of contagion within the household is very high since limited access to water reduces the possibility of hand washing at homes.

We are working with the doctor at our clinic in Boileau to expand cholera prevention.  Education about the risks has been our first priority.

Prevention: steps to reduce exposure starts with awareness of potential spreading of the bacteria.  The biggest risk is contaminated water supplies.  The villagers in Boileau have been blessed by your generosity – you have provided a total of 15 wells with hand pumps, so clean water is within walking distance of all the villagers.  For many, it still requires an hour or more to walk to and from the pump with 50 lbs of water, but they can have confidence the water is clean.  Fortunately, personal hygiene and cleanliness have been high priorities within Haitian culture, so the risk of person-to-person is not so strong.  Nevertheless, that risk is still there and must be recognized.  For example, the doctor emphasizes that people who do not have strong symptoms, can still be carriers.  Hand-washing remains the most important part of reducing spread of numerous diseases including cholera.

Recognizing the symptoms: recognizing the symptoms is another part of the education we’ve been providing.  The doctor noted that this is important since the early symptoms are similar to many other intestinal problems that Haitians
have trained themselves to “get through” without seeking medical help.  Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting – the earliest symptoms are typically treated at home.  Only when the symptoms become severe do they consider medical treatment.  Unfortunately, cholera can kill within hours, so not waiting until symptoms progress can be a life-or-death difference.

Education is an important first step toward prevention.  We are also seeking cost-effective methods to increase facilities for hand washing.  The school is our focus, but the early estimates of cost are beyond our means.  We’re looking for help from larger organizations.  We will continue to do what we can.

Meanwhile, we continue supporting the school, student-nutrition (school lunches), the medicine for the clinic, staff and equipment for the clinic, and the agriculture/livestock programs.  Each has challenges, but with the help of dedicated villagers to provide local management of these programs, all are doing well.

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