IRC Responds to Deadly Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

The International Rescue Committee sent out an official response via e-mail over the IRC’s efforts in Haiti, including information about the recent Cholera outbreak.

A cholera outbreak that has so far killed more than 250 people and sickened more than 3,300 others in Haiti now threatens the capital Port-au-Prince, where at least five cases have been reported.

Cholera is a serious threat to the more than one million earthquake survivors living in crowded tent settlements around the city. The unsanitary conditions in these settlements and the city’s slums are ripe for the rapid spread of this highly contagious, water-borne disease. “It’s rainy season, so there’s already a lot of mud and potential for flooding,” says Melody Munz, the International Rescue Committee’s environmental health coordinator in Haiti. “Our concern is that if we get an outbreak in a camp, then it could spread very, very quickly.”

Focus on Prevention

Munz says the key to curbing the spread of cholera is prevention. Since the January 12 earthquake, the IRC has been building latrines and washing facilities, clearing waste, and promoting health and hygiene. We have begun cholera prevention activities in the 30 settlements where we currently work, including:

  • Testing and chlorinating water sources
  • Stepping up our campaign to spread messages about washing with soap, drinking only chlorinated water and other protective measures
  • Gearing up to distribute water storage, water treatment supplies, soap and hand-washing basins

Cholera causes severe vomiting and diarrhea which can result in dehydration and death within a matter of hours. “What’s absolutely critical to treating cholera is rehydration,” says Munz, “And then it’s vital that people in affected areas practice good hygiene so that they don’t make others sick.”

The IRC is preparing to distribute supplies of aquatabs and oral rehydration salts should an outbreak occur in Port-au-Prince.