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Haiti: Stemming the tide of cholera

Cholera has taken hold in Haiti — a bacteria that until the mid 20th century had been eradicated from the country.

Since the outbreak last October at least 3,300 people have died as a result of cholera. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 400,000 may eventually become infected. Some observers say that figure is on the low side, and that upwards of 800,000 people could eventually succumb to the virus.

Yesterday I spoke to Save the Children’s Dr Ribka Amsalu who is in Haiti working on the cholera response. She told me that we should expect the number of cholera cases to peak within three months. It’s a sobering assessment. That probably means more lives will be lost to the deadly virus despite the best efforts of aid agencies like Save the Children and others.

But cholera does not have to kill. It’s easily treated with rehydration solutions. If untreated though it causes vomiting, diarrhoea, rapid loss of fluids and, eventually, can cause death.

At a camp called Delmas 56 — now home to 6,000 people made homeless by the earthquake — I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of cholera, but also how Save the Children is tackling the deadly outbreak at what’s known as a CTU or, cholera treatment unit.

Approaching the treatment unit I’m directed to disinfect my shoes and hands in chlorine. Inside, the treatment unit is pristine. White tents contain four to six beds on which patients, young and old, are given intravenous drips to replace lost fluids and to rehydrate the body. Some of the patients sit upright sipping water. The weaker lie still. All of them receive excellent ’round the clock medical care from a team of three doctors and seven nurses working eight hours shifts.

I’m impressed by how well run and maintained and how spotlessly clean the CTU is. It’s cleanliness stands in stark contrast to the camps outside and the filthy, traffic clogged streets nearby.

Over the next six months we aim to protect 600,000 people from the ravages cholera through our network of cholera treatment units. It’s vital work. Stemming the tide of cholera is now a top priority for Save the Children.

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