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Cholera: Haiti’s latest burden

Hammering, shouting and the smell of fresh wood – it’s just like any construction site in the UK. Except this is special. This is Save the Children’s new Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU) in Leogane, Haiti. The men are putting the finishing touches to the unit, but already the doors have been opened, and patients admitted. One of the first to arrive is 12-year-old Lucien. He’s been taught the symptoms of cholera at school, so when he started to feel sick he told his mother, who brought him straight here. The doctor gave him an oral rehydration solution (a mix of water, salt and sugar) and he’s feeling much better, although he is still very tired.

12-year-old Lucien was admitted to Save the Children's new Cholera Treatment Unit

It’s a great example of how Save the Children is tackling the outbreak — through education in schools and within communities to try and prevent cholera, and then treating it when it does occur. The education can vary from hygiene-promotion songs in Creole to hand-washing demonstrations by community volunteers.

The local people are very interested in the CTU — crowds have gathered outside, and some people have even brought chairs to watch the goings-on. For those who might struggle to reach the CTU on foot, the team here have ingeniously adapted a tap-tap (a Haitian bus).

Chlorine is central to the management of cholera. As soon as we step foot inside the CTU our shoes and hands are hosed down with chlorine, and again once as we approach the area in which the patients stay. Everything is covered with blue wipe-clean plastic sheeting, which gives it a faintly eerie atmosphere.

New cholera beds (designed with holes for diarrohea) are assembled for the new CTU

There will be 30 beds in this CTU. It’s large compared to another one I see later in the day – a CTU right in the heart of Gaston Margron camp in Carrefour. They have a 15 bed capacity, and have treated 157 cases. When I visited, the nurses told me that they have had no new patients – the CTU was empty. We know that cholera cases can often peak again, but the nurses were cautiously optimistic – could it be that the worst has passed?

In total there have been over 170,000 cases of cholera in Haiti, and around 3,600 deaths. Every one of those has left behind a distraught family. Tonight I go to bed pleased that Lucien is unlikely to become part of this statistic and can go back to school and play football with his friends.

Find out more about our work in Haiti

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