Haiti: hygiene promotion is key to preventing nationwide cholera epidemic, says Save the Children as death toll passes 900

As the death toll from Haiti’s cholera epidemic reached 917 on 12 November 2010, Save the Children says the best way to reduce the disease’s spread is to arm people with information and supplies to improve hygienic practices.

Cholera has reached the capital Port-au-Prince, where 27 deaths have been recorded and over 1.3 million earthquake survivors living in tent camps are at risk. Throughout the country 14,600 cholera victims have been hospitalised.

The United Nations forecasts up to 200,000 Haitians could contract cholera as the outbreak extends across the country of nearly 10 million, and says $163.9 million in aid is needed over the next year to combat the epidemic.

In Gaston Margron, a camp where Save the Children works, the first suspected case of cholera has been identified.

With a large number of deaths happening in the community, Save the Children fears that people may not be able to access health facilities when illness strikes. Also of concern is that people may not recognize the importance of seeking heath care immediately when they have any signs of symptoms – namely, acute watery diarrhea.

Nick Ireland, who is leading Save the Children’s cholera response in Haiti says, “A huge number of people are already affected by this outbreak. At this point, our best hope is to reduce the rate at which cholera spreads and the best way to do this is to arm people with information and supplies to improve hygienic practices.

“Health workers are going into the Haiti’s slums and camps and blocking the charge of cholera through the most vulnerable communities by giving families information that can save them and their children from the disease: use clean water and soap to wash your hands, safely dispose of excreta, treat water at point of use, spread these prevention messages and seek treatment at the very first signs of the disease.

“People are not just victims of this cholera outbreak; they are the key to quashing it.”

Save the Children is trying to reach the poorest neighbourhoods with limited access to health services, clean water and sanitation in densely populated areas like Port-au-Prince, as well as Jacmel (SE department), Dessalines, Maissade and Léogâne. It is focussing on providing information on how to prevent the spread of the disease, the importance of hand washing, treating water and seeking medical support at first signs of the disease. It also distributes clean water and builds latrines in camps and communities.

Since the January 2010 earthquake, Save the Children says it has reached over 280,000 people with clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes.

Source: Save the Children, 12 Nov 2010 ; Reuters Alert, 14 Nov 2010

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