Humanitarian Health Action

Haiti: response to the cholera outbreak

Monthly Highlights - October 2010

Woman washing in a camp in Port-au-Prince. The importance of clean safe water.
WHO/Nyka Alexander
Woman washing in a camp in Port-au-Prince. The importance of clean safe water.

As of 27 October, the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) reported 4722 cholera cases and 303 related deaths. It is the first outbreak of cholera in Haiti in decades.

The figures have been obtained through the early warning surveillance system set up during the response to the January earthquake. The actual number of cases is likely to continue to increase and could spread to different areas of Haiti.

About 20% of the people infected with cholera develop acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration which, in the absence of treatment, put them at risk of death. People with low immunity – such as malnourished children or people living with HIV/AIDS – are at a greater risk of death if infected.

The response is emphasizing:

  • prevention by ensuring clean water and promoting good personal hygiene and food handling practices, including hand washing;
  • the available of timely and effective treatment to minimize the number of deaths;
  • the proper disposal of bodies, which can be a source of contagion.

The MSPP is leading the response and has prepared a national strategy to strengthen the 80 primary health care centres in the metropolitan area and reinforce the 10 cholera treatment centres (CTC) and 8 hospitals for the management of severe cases. Work has also started on establishing community rehydration centres that provide oral rehydration by community workers. Within the overall humanitarian response, WHO/PAHO is:

  • mobilizing international experts in epidemiology, emergency management, water and sanitation engineering, risk communication and case management to Haiti and the Dominican Republic;
  • supporting the Water & Sanitation Cluster, providing powdered chlorine for water purification and testing in settlement camps;
  • ensuring the provision of clean water in hospitals;

WHO/PAHO’s PROMESS warehouse is well stocked with oral rehydration salts, IV fluids, and antibiotics, and PAHO is currently conducting needs assessments to make sure it can procure additional supplies as needed.

PAHO’s Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC) located in Trinidad is helping Caribbean ministries of health to mobilize and be prepared for any potential cases in the other islands.

The graph below shows the funds received for WHO’s emergency activities in Haiti between 12 January and 20 October 2010 (through WHO headquarters). As of October, 72% of the requirements for the health sector were covered.

For more information on WHO’s activities in Haiti