In 2013, the Government of Haiti committed to eliminate cholera in 10 years. But the task is not a simple one: at present, 250 new cases are registered per week, which means one person gets sick every hour. The areas in which cholera hides can be nearly inaccessible, so UNICEF and its partners are working all over the country to help Haiti achieve the goal of eliminating this disease.
One area in Haiti that remains problematic is Artibonite. So I recently went there to support one of our partners, Action Against Hunger (ACF).
On the hunt for information
Our first stop is at the Cholera Treatment Centre of Verrettes. At the centre, we interview patients to find out about their area of origin and the potential chain of contamination. In short, we are looking for the details that will help us track down enclaves of the disease.
Armed with the information one of the patients provides, we set off toward a small village.
Our car stops where the road ends. We are facing a mountain. Homes are few, and only a couple of cows graze peacefully, eyeing us, this group equipped with all the necessary tools to decontaminate homes, deal with infected persons and, of course, treat water. From this point, only people and other animals can pass.
We follow a path up the mountain, under the tropical sun. We pass a few local residents, who reassure us that we are headed in the right direction, yet the summit seems unreachable.
With every kilometre, it becomes more and more difficult to forge ahead, yet our solidarity is palpable. We are here to end a disease. We are walking slowly, yet there are smiles and some laughter.
We come across an old man sitting under a tree. He tells us that we are close to the village and that, yes, there are problems of cholera. He and his family were all affected by cholera a few weeks earlier. We turn a curve, and I see the little village, clinging to the side of the mountain. Only a few hundred metres to go – finally, we have arrived.
It has taken us three hours to reach the village on foot. The village is more than five hours from the health centre.
Taking action at community level
The team splits up. Some move into the village to find the home of the patient with whom we spoke in Verrettes. To create a cordon sanitaire, the home will have to be decontaminated, as will the adjoining houses.
Meanwhile, the villagers have gathered. Another member of the team carries out sensitization activities to teach the villagers about cholera, and distributes Aquatabs (to disinfect water so it is safe for consumption), oral rehydration salts (to administer to people who are suffering from severe diarrhoea, in particular, children) and soap (for hand washing, an important preventive measure).
After about an hour, our work is finished. We leave a stock of supplies with the villagers to ensure that the community can face a potential resurgence of the disease quickly.
And then we begin the long journey back.
Jerome Kouachi is a cholera expert with UNICEF Haiti.
On 9 October, the World Bank is hosting Haiti: Clean water, improved sanitation, better health, in collaboration with the Government of Haiti, the United Nations and development partners. This event brings together the international community to combat waterborne diseases like cholera in Haiti and invest in water, sanitation and health in the areas of the country most vulnerable to waterborne diseases and most in need of water and sanitation improvements.