Category Archives: Haiti

Health Inequity – Cholera as the Lens

By Elisabeth Stark, AmeriCares intern for Asia/ Eurasia Partnerships
By Elisabeth Stark, AmeriCares intern for Asia/ Eurasia Partnerships

After my first semester in college, I came home to find the biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, sitting on my desk with a yellow sticky note affixed to the front that read, “E – read this. Love, Mom.” I stacked the book on my bedside table without looking at it, exhausted by a grueling set of exams. A few days later, however, I picked up the book and couldn’t put it down. I have always been interested in medicine, but as I read Dr. Paul Farmer’s account of his efforts to bring health care to “those who need it most,” I was inspired in a whole new way.

This family, each member suffering from cholera, is being treated at an AmeriCares partner clinic in Haiti by local healthcare workers.
This family, each member suffering from cholera, is being treated at an AmeriCares partner clinic in Haiti by local healthcare workers.

Since then, my understanding of health inequity has grown enormously, and with it, my resolve to address it. One of the starkest representations of health inequity is the worldwide death toll from cholera. Cholera is not only preventable with adequate sewage and sanitation systems and general access to clean water, but is also treatable. And it’s inexpensive to treat, at that. All you really need is water. Water that I take for granted every day when I wash my hands, take a shower or fill a drinking glass. Still, [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]more than 100,000 people die from cholera each year – almost all in developing countries.[/inlinetweet]

At AmeriCares, I’m surrounded by a group of inspiring individuals who have dedicated themselves to addressing some of the world’s most pressing health issues, including cholera mortality. AmeriCares greatest commitment to fighting cholera so far has been in Haiti, a country vulnerable to cholera outbreaks due to limited access to clean water and sanitation. Furthermore, Haiti is prone to disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and rainy season flooding—all of which can exacerbate these vulnerabilities. AmeriCares provides IV fluids, oral rehydration solutions, antibiotics, disinfectants and buckets, among other supplies, to help health workers in Haiti care for patients in critical need during outbreaks. These supplies can, and do every day, make the difference between life and death for cholera patients.

Joenne (paitent's name has been changed), age 7, survived an episode of cholera two years ago because she had access to IV rehydration fluids donated by AmeriCares.
Joenne, age 7, survived an episode of cholera two years ago because she had access to IV rehydration fluids donated by AmeriCares.

One of the Haitian patients AmeriCares has reached is Joenne*, who was only five years old when cholera struck. She suffered from vomiting and diarrhea, and arrived, unresponsive, at our partner clinic. Joenne received donated IV fluids to reduce her dehydration, and in minutes, she was able to move and regained consciousness. Thanks to AmeriCares participation in the fight against cholera in Haiti, our partner clinic was able to quickly restore Joenne’s health and save her life.

It took only one hero, one champion of underserved populations, for me to realize my passion for working towards global health equity. But it is the everyday hero, the health worker in Haiti who saves a child like Joenne or a logistical partner who ensures the timely delivery of AmeriCares donated products, whom I wish to honor in this post. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=””]These #HealthcareHeroes are making tangible differences in people’s lives every day.[/inlinetweet]

*Patient’s name has been changed.

Empowering Women to Be Their Own #HealthcareHeroes

By Ariel Low, Emergency Response Intern
By Ariel Low, Emergency Response Intern

In my hometown, ambulance transport is provided by volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT). Whenever the ambulance is dispatched for a woman in labor, the goal is always to get her to the hospital before she delivers the baby because it’s the safest place to give birth. This is why, as a volunteer EMT, I’ve found myself rushing a woman in labor to the nearest hospital on a few different occasions.

In Haiti, some women have to walk several hours over rugged terrain to get to a clinic. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@Americares” suffix=””]Delays to quality care can be the difference between life and death for women and their babies.[/inlinetweet] AmeriCares has partnered with the Haitian Health Foundation to help fill this urgent health care gap by providing funding for the purchase of two ambulances, which are already saving lives. These ambulances are critical to providing emergency obstetric care for women in rural settings.  They are accessed through alarms sent by phone or text from Mother’s Clubs in mountain villages.  Without the community element of the program and the ambulances, many lives would have been lost.

Photo courtesy of Haitian Health Foundation
Photo courtesy of Haitian Health Foundation

AmeriCares commitment to women’s health in Haiti is multifaceted and doesn’t stop at providing ambulances, just as AmeriCares commitment to Haiti didn’t stop after the initial earthquake response. When writing our blog posts, we were asked to think about #HealthcareHeroes. Looking at AmeriCares work with this in mind, the “Partnership for a Better Haiti” program, another part of AmeriCares commitment to women’s health, leapt out at me. This program highlights many of what I think are the best aspects of AmeriCares work: partnerships, sustainability and empowerment.

“Partnership for a Better Haiti” is a program established by AmeriCares partner the Haitian Health Foundation.  One element of this project, now in the third year of support from AmeriCares, is to educate women and girls about their legal and health rights through meaningful social engagement. While I hadn’t watched much soccer before this year’s World Cup, soccer is very popular in Haiti. Another element of this project is to link soccer games and education, allowing women to form a sense of comradery while learning about sexuality, reproductive rights and female health.

Photo Credit: Megan Topp
Photo Credit: Megan Topp

Women who’ve gone through the program become #HealthcareHeroes for themselves and the other women in the community. These women amplify the effects of the program by mentoring other women and promoting an ideological shift around women’s health and rights that leads to healthier women and communities.

“[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”~M. Mead”]Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.[/inlinetweet] Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

The opportunities for self-growth and meaningful engagement in the community I gained as a volunteer EMT are what led to me interning at AmeriCares, which is why it is so inspiring to see AmeriCares helping to provide opportunities for other girls to grow and become engaged in their communities.

Cholera: What You Need to Know

Allyson Gambino
by Allyson Gambino, Communications Intern at AmeriCares

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.

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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.

AG Image2While 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.

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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.

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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

An AmeriCares Sample Pack

After a week of my internship at AmeriCares, I found myself swimming in a pile of papers, project proposals, and pamphlets. I had abandoned taking notes almost entirely—there was too much cool stuff to write down anyway. With 3,000 local partners worldwide in 90 countries, the global reach of Americares is both interesting and complex.

So, for you, I have compiled the “AmeriCares 7-Dose Sample Pack” — small doses from the AmeriCares portfolio that provide a wider insight into the complexity of the work we do.

Dose 1: Constantly Truckin’ Along

AmeriCares sends an average of 10 aid shipments each day by air, sea and road – and each year our warehouse in Stamford, CT turns over 9 times. This means the warehouse, which is 51,800 square feet, is filled with completely new medications and supplies 9 times a year. To give some perspective, this warehouse is larger than an NFL football field, which is only 43,560 square feet!

Dose 2: Affordable Health Care on the Homefront

AmeriCares operates 3 free clinics across the state of Connecticut, and will soon open a fourth – bringing quality, compassionate health care services to the uninsured and underinsured in AmeriCares home state. The clinics have permanent locations in Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Danbury; the new clinic will be located in Stamford, CT. Simple impact math: each DOLLAR given to the clinics provides FOUR DOLLARS worth of medical care.

Dose 3: A Primary Care Hub in India

At 12 locations over 15-day cycles, families living in the congested slums of Mumbai receive a unique opportunity—an opportunity to receive quality health care and free medication from mobile medical clinics run by the AmeriCares India team. In the most recent year of operation, the clinics provided care to 36,000 patients. But, this is only a small fraction of our work in country. Across India AmeriCares serves an estimated 10 million people in 21 Indian states with the help of 55 partner organizations. From the mobile clinics in Mumbai to disaster relief in Uttarakhand, Americares is there ready to support health care in India.

Dose 4: Combating Cancer in Cambodia

Through a partnership with AstraZeneca, AmeriCares is working in Cambodia to combat breast cancer — the leading cancer killer of women worldwide. At the Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE in Phnom Penh, breast cancer treatment is coupled with caregiver training and patient education programs. The comprehensive initiative aims to raise awareness, improve early detection, and increase survival rates. In Cambodia, where an alarming number of women die each year as a result of breast cancer, often due to lack of awareness and high cost of treatment – this program makes a lifesaving difference.

Dose 5: Famines, Floods, and Cholera

Disaster—the word is both ambiguous and broad. But, when famine was declared in the Horn of Africa, AmeriCares was there with enough crucial medicines, supplies, and water purification to reach 180,000 people. When catastrophic flooding struck Pakistan, displacing more than 2 million people, we delivered more than $6 million in emergency aid. As cholera outbreaks occur across the globe, we combat the disease, which spreads rapidly in crowded camps after disaster strikes, by delivering treatments and supporting prevention training in Haiti, the Horn of Africa, Sierra Leone and worldwide.

Dose 6: Healthy Steps with TOMS Shoes

Health goes beyond taking the right medications and making the right appointments. For the children coming to the AmeriCares family clinic in El Salvador, good health continues with a new pair of TOMS Shoes. Since 2010, AmeriCares has worked with TOMS to deliver new shoes to impoverished children in several countries around the world — including Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Armenia, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Through its socially conscious One for One® model, the new TOMS Shoes these children receive will be replaced as they grow, to protect them from cuts, infections and soil-transmitted ailments like hookworms. Today, the children can tread softly and more safely toward better health.

Dose 7: When the Pain Doesn’t Wash Away, AmeriCares is There

Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast —but just because the storm has passed does not mean that the devastation is over in the hearts and minds of survivors.

“Mental health services are often one of the most significant unmet needs after a disaster of this magnitude,” explained Garrett Ingoglia, AmeriCares vice president of Emergency Response. We’ve supported several programs that address this need – including counseling programs run by the YMCA in two-hard hit areas to help children cope with anxiety and trauma. Similar programs continue in Japan, to promote the mental well-being of survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. These programs are a crucial part of the recovery after the initial emergency response.