Eleven months after the devastating earthquake, an outbreak of cholera in Haiti is giving emergency medical groups another opportunity to make a difference.
Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 19, more than 49,000 people were hospitalized from cholera, according to the Haitian government. Another 1,186 have died. However, another third of the deaths have gone unreported, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Cholera is a bacterial disease with the most common symptoms being diarrhea and dehydration. It’s often found in areas that lack sanitation and clean drinking water, especially after natural disasters when people are living in crowded conditions.
To end the cholera crisis, health-care workers must tackle the root cause—access to clean drinking water, says Rahul Singh, a paramedic and executive director for Toronto-based NGO GlobalMedic.
GlobalMedic has been providing emergency medical services in Haiti since this past January. In March, their operations transitioned from medical care to disease prevention. Since then, GlobalMedic has installed hundreds of household water purification systems across the country. Another 1,000 are on the way.
The Gravity Rain Fresh system, used by GlobalMedic, works as water passes from one bucket though a .2-micron ceramic filter, which catches bacteria and dirt, to another bucket that collects the clean water.
“The nice thing about them is they are gravity fed with no moving parts,” Singh told JEMS as he was preparing to leave on his fifth trip to Haiti since January. “There is no electricity. They are simple to use.”
Still, Singh is concerned cholera could spread to more than 200,000 Haitians.
Many emergency responders who travelled to Haiti after the earthquake saw the potential for a cholera outbreak. Much of the country’s water, sewage and electric infrastructure were damaged by the 7.0 magnitude quake.
University of Pennsylvania Babak Sarani, MD, who specializes in emergency surgery, spent two weeks in Haiti in late January. He and a team of medical volunteers worked at a hospital in Cange.
“This was somewhat predictable, unfortunately,” says Sarani. “You could very easily appreciate how there were ripe conditions for an infectious disease outbreak.”
Haitians are willing to learn how to use the systems so they can help their families, friends and villages stay healthy, says Matt Capobianco, GlobalMedic’s manager for emergency programs.
“Everywhere we went there was a positive reaction,” says Capobianco. “People were always extremely excited and enthused to get clean drinking water, which is such a simple thing, but such an amazing thing.”
The struggle in Haiti isn’t over yet. To read a personal account of how they’re treating cholera and other medical problems Haiti currently faces, check out a special blog on JEMS Connect from Larry Miller, MD.