Ti koze sou kolera: In rural Haiti, Oxfam takes to the airwaves

By estevens
Treat people who have cholera with respect, says Jean Bassette on Oxfam's radio show in southern Haiti. "People who have the disease need to be able to tell that to the community.

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When cholera broke out in Haiti in October 2010, Oxfam launched water, sanitation, and health education programs in hotspots around the country. Our ongoing pilot program in rural Nippes includes chlorinating water supplies while helping communities understand how best to protect themselves.

“My friends,” comes the voice from the radio, “take your chairs to sit down and have some discussion about cholera now on your favorite show, ‘Some information about cholera.’”

If it is hard to imagine a show about a deadly disease as your favorite, that may be because you don’t live in rural Haiti. Here, among the beautiful mountains and broad rivers, people live with a frightening reality: it’s easy to catch cholera, and reaching the nearest clinic may take more time than you have.

In remote areas, a special urgency

Without treatment, cholera can be fatal within hours. But in rural Nippes province, what serves as a road may be the bed of a river that after heavy rains becomes a torrent. Or a footpath over steep mountains, where the rocks are sometimes covered in mud so slick that only the most sure-footed can navigate them. Where swift access to medical care is out of the question, cholera prevention takes on special urgency.

“There are some localities where we have to walk three to four hours to reach people. We use horses to go there,” says Jean Bassette, the Oxfam public health officer who hosts the show. “We can’t travel to remote areas every week, but with the radio program we can reach them easily.”

“Ti koze sou kolera,” as the show is called in Creole, invites listeners to call in. The discussions cover whatever cholera issues people want to talk about but usually focus on prevention and emergency treatment.

“If we don’t have oral rehydration salts—or sugar and salt to prepare them—what can we do?” asks one caller.

Stephanie Lormil, an Oxfam public health promoter who sometimes joins the show, explains that coconut water can be a stopgap solution, hydrating the person well enough to make the trip to the hospital.

Sensitive topics like social stigma enter in, as well.

“Treat people who have cholera with respect,” advises Bassette. “Do not humiliate them. People who have the disease need to be able to tell that to the community, and the community needs to support them by preparing oral rehydration salts and helping them get to the hospital. If people with cholera keep the information to themselves, there is risk to the whole community.”

We are not scared of cholera anymore

Feedback on the show has been overwhelmingly positive. Local leaders in communities throughout the broadcast area often call in with thanks and congratulations, and people on the street have kind words for the show.

“When we first heard about cholera, we were scared,” says Jose Mira of Petite Rivière de Nippes, who cited the radio show as one of Oxfam’s successful public health efforts. “We didn’t want to live next to people who had cholera. But Oxfam helped us understand the phenomenon of cholera and gave us training. After that, it became easier. We are not scared of cholera anymore, because we know how to protect ourselves.”


Read more about Oxfam's cholera program in rural Nippes.

Donate now to Oxfam's fund for Haiti relief and recovery.