Hurricane Sandy: Fighting the Spread of Cholera in Haiti

While Direct Relief USA reaches out to clinics on the East Coast, we continue to assess and respond to needs in Haiti where more than 50 people have been reported dead and another 200,000 people were affected by damage to their homes caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Because the rains and mudslides destroyed roads and bridges, many people have been cut off from accessing any medical services or clean water sources. The lack of access to health care treatment combined with floodwaters could cause a spike in cholera cases and deaths.

The recent tropical storm conditions have likely spread Vibrio cholera, the bacterium that causes cholera, into many water sources, causing poor sanitary conditions. Since Haiti has few functional sanitation systems that can contain and safely process fecal material, the spread of human feces throughout watersheds make further outbreaks highly likely. Cholera can be easily treated with intravenous (IV)  therapy and antibiotics, but requires immediate medical attention and can kill within days if not treated.

Direct Relief is among the largest providers of medical aid to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake—1,000 tons, $82 million in medicines and supplies to 115 Haitian healthcare facilities serving four million patients. And Direct Relief is experienced with fighting cholera in Haiti. During the cholera outbreak a year after the earthquake, Direct Relief provided enough medical supplies and equipment to treat 100,000 people and prevent further loss of life.

In any major disaster, information is hard to access because electricity, telephone, and radio communications are cut off. This is exacerbated in Haiti where the infrastructure is already poor. While there have been many rumors of increased cholera cases, it is hard to confirm those numbers. We are doing everything possible to get supplies to our partners, specifically in the southeast of Haiti, where they were hardest hit.

We have contacted partners in this area and offered one of our remaining Direct Relief hurricane modules to Visitation Hospital in Petite Riviere de Nippes. The international modules contain enough medicines and supplies to treat 5,000 people for one month. Fifteen modules were pre-positioned in seven at-risk countries, including Haiti, at the beginning of hurricane season. Visitation Hospital responded:

“Thanks for thinking of us. As of noon  Monday we have not received any cholera patients, but we have gotten a report that there is a an major outbreak in Anse-a-Veau  (about 10 miles west of us). Right now we are trying to confirm this. I really appreciate you sent me a list of the hurricane module contents, and I can see quickly that it contains some interesting medicines and lab or medical supplies that we can you use in aftermath of Sandy, as there’s an increase on the number of patients seen and the number of diagnoses also per patient.”

The Director of Maison de Naissance, a birthing center in Torbeck, southern Haiti also responded to our offer of assistance:

Thank you for checking in. Maison de Naissance’s biggest challenge right now is electricity as our generator is having serious issues. Although our doors remained open throughout the entire storm (and women did indeed brave the elements to come and deliver their babies!), the staff worked without power. During the day now we are again powered by our solar panels, but because of our broken generator, electricity is not available overnight. As of yet, we have not heard of cholera cases in our immediate zone of service. The radio is reporting many cases near Maniche (South Department).  

The emergency response team will continue to reach out to partners in Haiti and work to expand health care access throughout the country.

To support Direct Relief’s emergency relief and recovery efforts, donate here.

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