Education Key to Preventing Spread of Cholera in Haiti

By Ann Lundquist at April 5, 2011 | 9:54 am | Print

Education Key to Preventing Spread of Cholera in Haiti

(MissionNewswire) Nearly 779,000 cases of cholera in Haiti – double the number of the United Nations’ projections – are predicted by a new study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Harvard Medical School. The report, published in the March 16 issue of the medical journal Lancet, also predicts 11,100 deaths from the disease. Both predictions look at the timeframe of March through November, 2011.

“Educating people in Haiti about what they can do to help prevent the spread of cholera – as well as reminding people around the world of the continuing crisis – is of utmost importance,” Edson Timana, Haiti relief and reconstruction program manager for Salesian Missions. Timana recently returned from Haiti where he saw first-hand the work being done and met with Dr. César Anthony Roody, who has been placed in charge of their cholera prevention program.

Salesian Mission is currently working with schools and communities throughout Haiti to promote education and awareness efforts. These include conferences at schools, teacher training, door to door outreach and radio broadcasts.

The U.N. numbers did not incorporate existing disease trends or take into account major factors like water contamination, how the disease is transmitted or even human immunity to cholera. Instead, they were based on a simple assumption that the disease would infect a set portion (2 to 4 percent) of Haiti’s population of 10 million, says study co-author UCSF medical resident Sanjay Basu, MD, in a press release. He notes that using data from Haiti’s Ministry of Health and other sources, the new study made a more sophisticated model of the spread of disease in several Haitian provinces.

“The epidemic is not likely to be short-term,” adds Basu. “It is going to be larger than predicted in terms of sheer numbers and will last far longer than the initial projections.”

According to the World Health Organization, to date, more than 195,000 people have been infected with cholera in Haiti, resulting in 4,000 deaths.

In October of last year, the U.N. first projected that some 200,000 people would eventually become infected. Two weeks later, they doubled this projection to 400,000. These projections help determine how resources are allocated.

The new study also examines the effect of making clean water more available and interventions involving vaccines or antibiotics. It notes that “a mere 1 percent reduction in the number of people forced to drink contaminated water would avert more than 100,000 cases of cholera this year and prevent some 1,500 deaths. Vaccinating about 10 percent of the population would spare about 900 lives.” The work also predicts that extending the use of antibiotics more widely would prevent 9,000 cases of cholera and 1,300 deaths.

“Many of the students and community members we are working with have family members who have died or been sickened by the cholera epidemic. These people know first-hand the dangers of cholera and are very motivated to learn how they can prevent further spread of the disease by their daily actions,” says Timana.

Salesian Missions is currently funding a project to staff doctors and nurses for a period of two months to provide relief to the cholera victims in various communities.

“We will continue to work with communities as long as we are needed. Salesians have been in Haiti since 1935, and we are committed to the long-term needs of Haiti,” adds Timana.

Source: UCSF Study (March 15, 2011)

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