Greetings from Health for Haiti. While we are sad to report that our community partners in Haiti are facing significant challenges associated with cholera, we want to share their efforts to face the crisis.
Cholera is a diarrheal disease that if left untreated can cause rapid dehydration, kidney failure, and death. Cholera spreads when water becomes contaminated with Vibrio cholerae bacteria. Cholera spreads in water where there’s poor sanitation and when people face challenges with obtaining clean drinking water. Haiti experienced its first major cholera outbreak in 2010, and although there had been no cases reported in the past few years, civil unrest, widespread gas shortages, and massive failures of already fragile infrastructure have resulted in reemergence of the deadly disease.
Since March 2015, our community partners in Haiti have had access to clean, safe drinking water. A municipal grade water filtration system donated by the Pall Corporation in Cortland, New York, filters the water from the local river, making it safe to drink. The system is powered by gas generators.
Although we are moving towards converting the system from gas to solar power, we are not there yet. Unfortunately the community’s ability to obtain gas to power the water filtration system has declined considerably over the past couple of months. The system can only be run for very short periods when they can find some gas. As a result of decreased access to clean water, cholera is impacting the community. We share in their grief and fear as they face this crisis. And this is not some abstract crisis, it is personal. Our long-time teacher of the sixth grade lost his father, and we currently have two school children sick with cholera.
Although we have been very focused on raising money to help the community convert the water filtration system from gas to solar power (thanks to all who supported our “Pancakes for Solar” event!), we wanted to do what we could to help the community face the current health crisis.
Professor Maureen Hankin (co-creator of Health for Haiti) and her dental hygiene students were able to step in and meet this need. The SUNY Broome Dental Hygiene Club received the American Dental Hygiene Association’s (ADHA) Student Member Community Service Award for their work in Haiti in both 2017 and 2019. They won this national award because of the exemplary oral care services they provided in Haiti. When they learned about the cholera crisis, they donated their prize money to assist our community partners.
The entire Grande Saline region spans thirty square kilometers and is home to almost 50,000 people. The area has only one medical center to treat local people who contract the disease. Our partners in Haiti, Dorcent Berlando and Schneider Lafaille, used the funds to purchase chlorine and oral rehydration serum and delivered cases of these items to the medical center. Their only stipulation is that people who need treatment receive it.
“We are willing to go and share these life-saving medical supplies with the surrounding community. We understand how cholera spreads. We know it is impacting many local communities and spreading from person to person. Even if cholera is only in one community to start, it will spread and others will be infected.”Pastor Berlando
In addition to delivering supplies to the medical center, Berlando and Schneider shared chlorine packets to help local families make their drinking water safer. They are also focusing on education, organizing efforts to teach families how to avoid cholera by washing their hands thoroughly and adding the chlorine tablets to water to kill the cholera bacteria.
”We want to help people who are sick get treated but we also want to share information so we can prevent more people from getting sick.”Schneider Lafaille
They hope to receive additional funds to expand the education efforts by hiring and training young people who can reach more remote areas. Their other wish is to be able to purchase a community motorcycle to serve as an ambulance. The treatment center takes about an hour and a half to reach on foot (and that is if you are well), but only 30 minutes by motorcycle. Time is of the essence, as cholera can kill in a matter of hours.
We certainly can’t solve the cholera problem in Haiti, but there are worthwhile things we can do. We can continue to stand with and support our friends, share their efforts to ease the crisis, partner on strategies to protect their families and their neighbors, and we can continue to work towards implementing a solar power solution for the water filtration system.
Health for Haiti thanks the Dental Hygiene students for the generous donation of their prize money. Their donation made this cholera response effort possible. We invite anyone who would like more information about this specific health effort to contact Health for Haiti (Jen Musa: firstname.lastname@example.org and Maureen Hankin: email@example.com). Thank you!