Hygiene kits in high demand as cholera spreads in Haiti

  • November 11, 2010
Haiti girls foodPORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - As the official cholera toll reached 724 dead with 10,000 people treated in hospitals for the deadly bacteria as of Nov. 11, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has given Caritas Haiti $123,000 to finance distribution of 3,000 more emergency hygiene kits.

Caritas Haiti had exhausted its emergency stores of 76,000 hygiene kits, including aquatabs to purify water. The new hygiene kits will be distributed in 20 tent-city camps around Port-au-Pince, Haiti’s capital, where parish volunteers in the camps will be trained by medical professionals in cholera prevention.

There are more than one million Haitians still living in tents 10 months after the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed 230,000.

The first cases of cholera were reported in the countryside three weeks ago. Symptoms of cholera, a water-borne infectious disease, include diarrhea, vomiting and fever and, untreated, death comes from dehydration. The disease recently reached Port-au-Prince, home for 2.5 million people.

As the Haitian government tried to strike a difficult balance between keeping panic at bay and  warning the population of the seriousness of the cholera outbreak, the leader of Haiti’s largest organization for small farmers told The Catholic Register that official death tolls understate the totals by at least 20 per cent.

“People who die at home are not counted — only those who die in hospital,” said Chavannes Jean Baptiste, director of the Mouvman Peyisan Papay (Creole for the Peasant Movement of Papaye).

Baptiste is planning to use his network of 60,000 farmers and the organization’s radio service to broadcast information about the disease and distribute hygiene kits.

“People have been through so much. Now they’re panicking again. They don’t have information,” said Baptiste.

The combination of heavy rains, dropping temperatures, and flooding on the Artibonite River, where the outbreak originated, has produced perfect conditions for the spread of the disease throughout the country, said Baptiste.

Mobilizing small farmers in Haiti’s isolated mountain communities is difficult enough. Trying to contain the spread of cholera in Port-au-Prince’s crowded slums and even more crowded tent-cities will be harder, said Caritas Haiti spokesperson Ridona Cornet.

"In Port-au-Prince there are added challenges,” she said. “Because of the camps.”

With the long string of disasters since the Jan. 12 earthquake, including Hurricane Tomas lashing the northwest coast of Haiti, killing 12, Nov. 5 and 6, the cholera outbreak and the threat of violence looming with elections scheduled for Nov. 28, Cornet does not believe Haitians are losing hope.

“People from abroad are often surprised by the ability of people in Haiti to keep on,” she said. “There’s always the hope that things will get better.”

Cornet said cash was the most welcome form of aid at the moment because it allowed for rapid deployment. Supplies sent to Haiti have to pass through customs and might not reach vulnerable populations for months, she said.

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