As the number of cholera deaths in Haiti tops 1,000 and instances of violence are impeding response in some areas, UNICEF is still committing all of its human and material resources to cholera treatment, prevention and public awareness. UNICEF staff are now present in 8 field posts in addition to Port-au-Prince.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about cholera in Haiti:
How does cholera start and how does it spread?
Cholera is caused by vibrio cholerae, which can exist for long periods in environmental reservoirs,usually in brackish waters or in estuaries. When introduced into a susceptible individual usually through contaminated food or water, the vibrio multiply and are excreted through the faeces of the patient. Further transmission occurs when infected faeces contaminate water or food sources leading to an outbreak. Person to person spread can occur by the ingestion of vibrio through close contact with a cholera patient and their soiled clothes. This can lead to explosive outbreaks particularly in places with poor sanitation and water supplies.
Why has UNICEF not solved the problems of water and sanitation?
UNICEF has been successful in addressing urgent WASH needs in camps and throughout earthquake-affected areas. It is important to place current circumstances in context and note that the WASH situation in Haiti, before the January 12 earthquake, was amongst the worst in the world. Access to drinking water, in urban environments, was at 71% and only 55% in rural areas, whereas access to sanitation was at 24% in urban environments and 10% in rural areas. Haiti is one of the few countries in the world where access to sanitation is declining. Improving the water and sanitation conditions in Haiti is a long term development goal. To rehabilitate and extend the urban water system of Port-au-Prince alone would cost an estimated US $200 million dollars.
What is UNICEF doing now to combat the disease?
UNICEF has been working with the government, UN partners and NGOs, with the aim to cover 5,000 schools and 554 residential care centers with hygiene promotion, soap, access to safe water (through the use of Aquatabs® and/or chlorination) and the maintenance of sanitation. Prior to the outbreak, UNICEF and partners
- constructed a reported 14,763 latrines and 5,549 showers
- distributed more than 7,000 cubic meters per day of chlorinated water
- trained 4,035 hygiene promoters that are working in camps
Why is UNICEF asking for more money for the cholera outbreak?
UNICEF has been reprogramming critical resources received to support the 12 of January earthquake towards cholera prevention and response programmes. However, this comes at a cost to the continuity in 2011 of humanitarian services for displaced persons the recovery programmes that could facilitate their return or resettlement into safer areas. In short, this crisis comes at the expense of long-term reconstruction and resettlement.
Why didn’t earlier health interventions include immunization against cholera?
Because Haiti has not had cholera for 100 years, it was not considered a health priority. Limited financial and other resources required that authorities concentrate on diseases determined to be a more immediate threat.
What is the source of the outbreak?
The source of the outbreak is still unknown. UNICEF’s priority is the containment of the disease.