Red Cross responds to cholera outbreak in Haiti

November 17, 2010 3:14:52 PM PST
About 200,000 people are expected to fall victim to cholera in Haiti. On Sunday, Haiti's president addressed his country to help educate them on how this disease is spread. There are several international organizations working along with the Haitian government, and the Red Cross let us join them as they worked in a suburban community to teach people how to stay safe.

The American Red Cross has drafted a new strategy to attack the onslaught of cholera on Haiti. In the mountainside outside of Petionville, just one team made up of nearly 200 volunteers met face to face with each resident to offer five-minute instructions on the art of hand washing, a simple, but they hope, effective way to slow the spread of the disease, which new estimates forecast could claim 200,000 victims.

"The big concern right now is that there's going to be a major outbreak into Port-Au-Prince. It would be incredibly difficult to contain if that happens," said Julie Sell with the American Red Cross.

In Port-Au-Prince's largest camp, 8,000 people live packed together and are bathing sometimes in the same dirty water, and lacking sufficient clean water to drink. Cholera is spread through water and waste. The Red Cross alone provides 660,000 gallons of clean water a day.

The government has been slow to admit just how quickly the disease is invading Haiti from its origin in the Artbonite region a several-hours drive away. In fact, two days before the government admitted cholera had been diagnosed in the city we met people who said their friends or loved ones had died from it.

Breece Michel says a child's death was the signal of cholera's arrival in his camp.

"They keep on bringing people here very often. Actually, they bring seven people here and there's one of them who died," Michel said through a translator.

It can take just hours for a child to die from the severe dehydration cholera causes, adults a few hours more.

"It's an easily preventable disease, but the challenge here is Haiti is that this is such a poor country with so many people who don't have access to the sorts of facilities that Americans take for granted," Sell said.

About a million people in Port-Au-Prince still live in temporary housing.

But believe it or not, one of the ways the Red Cross is reaching out to residents to inform them about the cholera epidemic is by cell phones; it's estimated three-quarters of people living in temporary access have access to cell phones. There have been text messages, soap and presidential appeals not to drink from public water pipes without boiling the water first. Still, there aren't enough beds.

Cholera centers and even hospitals, in Mir Ballet, in Port-Au-Prince, in Gonaives are at capacity. This already feeble country is facing an enemy that's proving agile and fast.

And that same anger is swelling in Haiti. On Monday, huge protests broke out at several United Nations bases.

On Tuesday, we'll look at why protesters are targeting the UN and why aid workers are being blamed for Haiti's cholera epidemic.


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