As of October 27th, the Ministry of Health in Haiti reports at least 303 people dead and more than 4,700 sickened by a cholera epidemic that’s swept through Haiti’s northern regions in the past week.
“There have been no cases to date that have been reported that have affected any Holt children or families,” says Sarah Halfman, Holt’s director of programs in Latin America, Haiti and Romania. “As for preparing a coordinated response to the outbreak at this time for the families in the family preservation program, ongoing preventative education on cholera and hygiene seems to be the best course of action.”
Holt’s prevention efforts include reprinting and distributing government fliers, written in Creole with pictures illustrating what to do to prevent contracting the disease.
A bacterial disease that spreads through contaminated water and food, cholera causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pains and, without treatment, death typically occurs within 3 to 4 hours of symptoms. Malnourished children, people with HIV/AIDs and the elderly are the most vulnerable population groups. Because they dehydrate quickly, children under 5 are also especially vulnerable to the disease.
At the Holt Fontana Village, where Holt helps provide care for orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children in Haiti, the staff are working to increase consciousness of food handling and preparation; have posted educational fliers for both caregivers and children; and are keeping school-age children out of school while they monitor the situation in the nearby Artibonite region, where over three-quarters of the cholera cases have occurred.
“By restricting that movement, we make sure the children in the village are safe,” says Halfman.
Although treatment and prevention efforts have slowed the spread of the disease, the World Health Organization says the outbreak is not yet contained. The Haitian government, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), UN agencies and NGOs continue to provide relief efforts in a growing number of regions. “The CDC and Haitian officials have been very aggressive in their response,” says Mansour Masse, Holt’s in-country Haiti director.
Holt began educating families on disease prevention long before the outbreak. The 234 families in Holt’s family preservation program receive weekly family wellness trainings in addition to nutritional and educational support. “Every week we discuss a topic – it could be hygiene, it could be HIV/AIDs, it could be nutrition,” says Masse. “Now it’s cholera – in every session, we talk about prevention, prevention, prevention.”
Holt supports families and children in two cities in Haiti – Montrouis on the northwest coast, and Jacmel in the far south. While the outbreak is mostly contained in the Artibonite region in the north, Holt Haiti’s response is as aggressive in Jacmel as Montrouis. “Just in case,” says Masse.
“Right now it’s fairly contained and isolated,” Halfman says of the outbreak. “However, as we closely monitor the situation, we will tailor our response as needed.” Once considered safe, children at the Holt Fontana Village will return to school, maybe as early as next week.