A cholera outbreak in the Artibonite department of Haiti, north of the earthquake-ravaged capital, has left 138 people dead and sickened more than 1,500, according to the country’s Ministry of Public Health. Oxfam has mobilized a team of five emergency specialists to set up water, sanitation, and hygiene programs for about 100,000 people and will send additional support in the coming days.
“This outbreak of cholera is moving very quickly. We are very concerned about the virulence of it,” said Cedric Perus, humanitarian program manager for Oxfam in Haiti. “Our response must be immediate to contain the spread of this disease.”
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Severe cases of the disease can kill within hours if left untreated. With prompt administration of oral rehydration salts, many people can be successfully treated. Those who become severely dehydrated require intravenous fluids.
The cause of the outbreak in Artibonite is not yet known. But like much of Haiti, the region suffers from lack of access to clean water and decent sanitation services—leaving people vulnerable.
“Our goal will be to provide clean water, toilets, and perhaps most importantly, educate people about good hygiene practices,” said Perus. The organization has enough supplies on hand to provide 5,000 people with clean water within the next two days and is determining what resources are required to meet the needs of others in the zone.
“Basic good hygiene is what will stop the spread of this outbreak,” added Perus.
Oxfam is working in close coordination with other public health, water, and sanitation agencies as well as with the government to respond to the outbreak and try to prevent its spread to camps in Port-au-Prince for people displaced by the January 12 earthquake. Oxfam is continuing its extensive public health education programs in many of those camps and is providing clean water and sanitation services for more than 450,000 earthquake victims.