You might not know what cholera is, and honestly I didn’t know too much about it either before interning at AmeriCares. My lack of knowledge is most likely because cholera is so uncommon in the U.S., with an average of only six cases per year, according to the CDC.
But in other countries around the world, cholera is still a very common and serious problem. Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by food or water contaminated with vibrio cholerae bacteria. It’s not prevalent in the U.S. because we’re fortunate enough to have excellent water and sanitation systems, which many developing countries may not have.
Cholera Can Affect Anyone
I’ve learned that after the first case in Haiti was confirmed in October 2010, cholera has had a devastating impact in a nation struggling to recover from a deadly earthquake. In that year alone, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health confirmed 91,770 cholera cases in Haiti’s 10 departments.
It’s difficult to comprehend such staggering numbers, but what’s even more daunting to me is that this deadly infection can affect anyone: the elderly, women, and even children like the young girl pictured above, from the Cazeau neighborhood in an urban slum of Port-au-Prince.
Cholera Has Simple Solutions
I also find it extremely shocking that what many may think of as a basic human resource, clean water, is the simple solution to help decrease cholera cases in Haiti. Yet getting access to clean water there is still a challenge today.
While at AmeriCares, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the importance of cholera prevention, preparedness for outbreaks, and how health workers are trained to treat people with cholera.
A perfect example of this work is helping Haitian communities by providing water purification tablets, which can help to prevent contamination. AmeriCares initiative to build latrines improves sanitation, drastically reducing the spread of cholera; and providing oral rehydration salts to treat cholera has been instrumental in helping Haitians.
Cholera Education is Important
Beyond aid deliveries, I was very pleased to learn that cholera education is the centerpiece of AmeriCares work — making sure as many health workers and patients as possible are trained in simple prevention tools such as hand washing, while also providing ways to treat cholera.
To help you really understand the impact: in Haiti alone, AmeriCares has delivered more than 325,000 cholera treatments and supported the training of over 140,000 people in cholera prevention.
Preparing Others for Cholera
It’s during this time of year, as the rainy season begins, that Haitians are most vulnerable; flooding occurs due to heavy rain or tropical storms, leaving water supplies used for drinking and cleaning open to contamination. Fortunately, the AmeriCares Haiti team is prepared to take action as needed, while they also continue ongoing aid deliveries and educating health workers and patients.
As AmeriCares continues to address cholera in Haiti and around the world, I’m happy to know that more people can live without the burden of this infection.
– Allyson Gambino