Mercy Corps works to contain spread of cholera in Haiti

Haiti, October 27, 2010

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mercy Corps is rushing to help guard against the spread of a cholera epidemic concentrated in Haiti's rural Artibonite and Center departments. The disease has already killed at least 284 and sickened more than 3,769. Five cases have now been confirmed in Port-au-Prince, where an estimated 1.2 million earthquake survivors still live in cramped temporary settlements. Mercy Corps is working in close coordination with Haitian authorities and the humanitarian community to respond to the crisis.

Mercy Corps launched a public-awareness campaign this week in the affected Center Department to reach the cities of Mirebalais, Hinche and surrounding areas with critical information about how to prevent cholera and treat dehydration with a simple solution of sugar, salt and water. Mercy Corps team members are spreading the word by visiting communities; training local representatives and volunteers and giving them megaphones to take messages to their neighborhoods, markets and schools; and even putting loudspeakers on top of cars to broadcast information.

The aid agency stresses the vital role that information can play in quelling the epidemic. "Many people are unfamiliar with cholera, which hasn't been seen in Haiti since 1960. We are acting quickly to get Haitians the supplies and information they need to prevent more avoidable deaths," says Brian Oakes, Mercy Corps Haiti country director. "Cholera strikes where sanitation is poor and water is not clean. Unfortunately these are usually the living conditions for Haiti's rural poor,” explains Oakes.

Mercy Corps has provided 30 mattresses to the Mirebalais hospital, which faced a desperate shortage of beds. Many of the hospital’s existing mattresses had to be burned due to infection. This hospital has received more than 800 suspected cholera cases over the last six days. In addition, Mercy Corps’ response team delivered hygiene kits to the local prison, where there were 50 suspected cases of cholera.

The aid agency also plans to deploy multiple water purification units to Mirebalais to be used by medical centers and the community at large. Each of these unites can produce up to 6,800 gallons of potable water a day and were provided to Mercy Corps by ITT Corporation, a leader in water treatment and transport.

Five cases of cholera in Port-au-Prince were confirmed by officials on Tuesday, where an estimated 1.2 million earthquake survivors still live in camps that make them particularly vulnerable to the infectious waterborne disease. Mercy Corps' team has been distributing soap and information on how to treat and prevent the disease in 25 camps in the capital since Sunday. They have already prepared approximately 2,600 people with supplies and information.

Mercy Corps has provided water and sanitation services to Port-au-Prince camps since shortly after the earthquake. Over the last nine months, the agency has assisted 23,500 people with clean water, latrines, showers, hygiene information and other supplies. These vital services will continue through this crisis.

Mercy Corps' cholera emergency response also builds on its existing work in the Lower Artibonite and Center Department where it is assisting more than 20,000 host families and displaced earthquake survivors through cash-for-work, cash grants, and innovative market-based voucher programs that provide home improvement supplies through market fairs and monthly food staples via local vendors.