Despite a slowing in the number of new cases of cholera reported in Haiti, the Red Cross has warned it would be a deadly mistake to assume the outbreak has been contained.
With five confirmed cases in Port-au-Prince, the Red Cross is rolling out emergency cholera prevention measures in the capital as well stepping up preparations for further outbreaks.
“So far we have only seen a few isolated cases in Port-au-Prince and they have been dealt with quickly, but if an epidemic hits the city, with its severely limited sanitation and hundreds of thousands of people living in camps, we could quickly have a desperate crisis on our hands,” said Chris Brewer, British Red Cross sanitation manager in Port-au-Prince.
“New cases appear to be slowing which is good news, but cholera can spread so quickly from even just a single source, it would be fatal to let up our efforts now.”
As part of the emergency measures being put in place, the Haitian government has asked the Red Cross to set up cholera treatment centres to prepare for the spread of the disease, and planning is already underway for how to handle potential outbreaks in camps.
The British Red Cross has set up an observation centre in La Piste camp, home to 50,000 people, and is working to prepare for the rapid setup of treatment facilities if the camp is hit by an outbreak.
Hundreds of Red Cross hygiene promotion volunteers are also being trained in cholera preparedness and prevention, going door-to-door across camps to make sure people know how to keep themselves and their families safe.
The Dominican Red Cross has also has also begun hygiene promotion activities along the border.
Marie Joseph Diaque has been a British Red Cross hygiene promoter in La Piste camp since April.
“Over the past few months we have been teaching people about good hygiene practices like washing their hands and using safe drinking water. Now the levels of awareness in the camp are much higher, but in preparation for this crisis we are stepping up our activities, reiterating these messages, and giving people specific information on cholera that could save their lives,” she said.
Local radio networks, newspapers, SMS technology and other media are all being used to make sure health information reaches as many people as possible.
“In the next 24-48 hours we will have a much better understanding if this spells a crisis for Port-au-Prince. In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to stop this threat form turning into another tragedy for the people of Port-au-Prince,” added Brewer.
Notes to editors
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Cholera specific Red Cross work in Haiti:
· Five Red Cross trucks have been deployed from Port-au-Prince to Artibonite, with much of the resources designated for the small city of St Marc where the outbreak is centred. Supplies delivered include
o 6,830 family hygiene kits
o 300,000 water purification tablets
o Supplies to treat 2,400 people for cholera
o 9,000 x 1 litre bags of clean drinking water
· Hundreds of hygiene promotion volunteers are being trained in cholera prevention and visiting 64 camps in Port-au-Prince to spread information on how people can protect themselves.
· Large shipments of oral rehydration solution, thousands of bars of soap and water purification tablets are on their way to the city.
· Red Cross hospitals in Carrefour and Petit Goave on high alert
· The Red Cross continues to distribute 2.5 million litres of clean water every day.
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.