Humanitarian Health Action

Update on disease situation in Haiti


While the whole country was affected by the rains and subsequent flooding, the city of Gonaives is particularly affected. Mainly due to the extensive flooding, mudslides, and destruction of bridges following Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna, the public health information system of Haiti has been further challenged in getting information.

However, the Ministry of Health as well as NGOs such as MSF (Belgium, France, and Holland), MERLIN, MDM, and ICRC are moving forward in making assessments inclusive of hard-to-reach areas. It should be noted that these areas, accessible only by helicopters, have to rely mainly on MINUSTAH flights that are focusing on getting much needed water, food, and medical supplies. It should also be noted that there has been no reported epidemics so far.

Disease Reports:

The health system in Artibonite was either completely destroyed (departmental hospital) or severely compromised by the floods. There are reports of suspected malaria cases. However, it should be noted that the area is endemic for malaria. To prevent a possible outbreak of malaria, PAHO/WHO has provided medical supplies and has started increased vector control and is considering the request of the health authorities for the provision of impregnated bed-nets.

Two deaths have been attributed to tetanus. In 2007, there were 38 cases of tetanus reported among adults and 37 cases of neonatal tetanus. As a result, the nationwide tetanus vaccination campaign, planned to be undertaken in 2009, will be a more urgent priority.

As is usual in these kinds of post-hurricane scenarios, there are increased cases of diarrhoea, respiratory and skin infections. However, the numbers do not warrant any signs of epidemics.

Disease surveillance and response activities:

The MOH has strengthened its capacity for communicable diseases surveillance including a surveillance form which has been distributed to all departments and the departmental epidemiologists are actively following up from all government and private institutions. The MOH is working with various agencies that have proven experience and expertise, CDC, MSF (Belgium, France, Holland), MDM, PSF, ICRC, CARE, among others.

PAHO/WHO has 3 specialists (2 Epidemiologists and 1 Infectious Disease Specialist) in Haiti and are strategically responding to the needs of the country. The health cluster, chaired by PAHO, works hand-in-hand with the MOH and is in daily, sometimes hourly, contact with key partners (i.e. MSF Belgium in Artibonite).

Data sharing and updates of activities are a standing item in the weekly health coordination meetings in which all NGOs in Health in the country participate. The weekly meetings, when needed, are supplemented by ad hoc meetings. The post-disaster surveillance form, designed jointly by PAHO, CDC and MOH is being used by all partners.

The PAHO/WHO REPRESENTATIVE in Haiti has indicated that there is no need of additional disease control specialists in Haiti at this point. This view is also shared by the Health NGOs in the country.

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