In the wake of Sandy, Oxfam distributes cholera kits and steps up prevention

By Coco McCabe
Haitians cope with the deluge left by Hurricane Sandy.

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When Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti, the strong winds and torrential rains that accompanied it brought new waves of hardship and worry for many families still trying to recover from the earthquake that destroyed their homes nearly three years ago. And not the least of their concerns is cholera—the deadly waterborne disease that broke out on the heels of the quake and continues to spike during periods of heavy rain.

Around the capital city of Port-au-Prince and in the Region des Palmes, Oxfam has been distributing hygiene and cholera kits to people in need, while continuing to provide information on how to prevent the spread of the disease. In Artibonite, a rural region to the north that was hit hard by cholera when the first outbreak occurred, Oxfam is stepping up its prevention activities. It’s providing equipment to cholera treatment centers, distributing cholera kits to hundreds of families, and collaborating closely with the local authorities.

“Unfortunately, cholera will likely, at a minimum, be endemic in Haiti for years to come,” said Thomas Mahin, a water quality adviser to Oxfam America. “The history of cholera cycles in other countries is that when the outbreak goes from an epidemic to an endemic situation, the number of cases decreases significantly but the percent of cases that are children less than 5 years old goes up. So, while the number of cases will decline eventually, the most vulnerable populations—infants, pregnant women, etc.—will still be at significant risk. So, the total number of cases only tells part of the story.”

The rain Sandy dumped isn’t only affecting the potential for a cholera outbreak. In some areas of the country, rainfall was equivalent to about 50 percent of the yearly precipitation and destroyed houses, bridges, schools, and roads.

In the South-East region, Oxfam is working with local partners to evaluate damage to agricultural areas: Sandy was the third recent weather event to hit the region following, first, a drought and then tropical storm Isaac. The cumulative effects of these crises are devastating to small farmers. Oxfam has launched cash-for-work initiatives for more than 1,000 families. The income from that work can help people meet their basic needs.