Water Is Life: Combatting Cholera in HaitiPosted on by
At the small water point in Trianon, Haiti, you can see a crowd gather. Here, as at many such sites across the country, locals wait their turn to fill buckets for drinking, washing and cooking – proving the adage that no matter where you are in the world, water is life. So when a deadly outbreak of cholera struck the island in 2010, the need for clean, safe water became one of our paramount priorities.
In Haiti alone, almost 8,000 people have died as a result of cholera, an illness that is often transmitted through contaminated water. Providing safe drinking water is essential in reducing the risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
Due to poor water and sanitation and no prior immunity to the disease, we witnessed cholera spreading quickly throughout the country. But with its healthcare and infrastructure in tatters following the January 2010 earthquake, a response was difficult to coordinate. Recognizing the critical needs that existed, the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), the U.S. government and other donors stepped in, addressing the immediate health needs in the wake of the earthquake and supporting a nationwide effort to increase access to clean, safe drinking water. This is how I came to find myself in the country, helping to bolster Haiti’s National Directorate for Drinking Water and Sanitation, known by their French acronym as DINEPA.
As explained by Tom Handzel, a CDC Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) epidemiologist, “When DINEPA laid out their budget they came to CDC and asked if we could fund various positions for which funding had not been identified. The idea was to cover the country with workers to monitor drinking water, and they would need two people for each of the 140 communes to do so.” We are now supporting Haiti’s cholera elimination strategy, which includes a robust WASH plan.
As part of our aid efforts, CDC is supporting salaries and commodities (including motorcycles for transportation) for 54 of the nation’s 256 Rural Water and Sanitation Technicians. These technicians are deployed by DINEPA to test chlorine levels at water points across Haiti. CDC also designed the training program for all 256 technicians and is currently providing assistance to design a robust information management system for monitoring the data the technicians will routinely collect. Aside from directly supporting the technicians, we are also funding several small water projects in Haiti and providing a range of much-needed technical support as well.
By passing on their findings to Haiti’s government, DINEPA will help to inform future policy and emergency response, a critical need if further deadly outbreaks are to be avoided. Over the longer term DINEPA intends to set up water committees at each water point who will be responsible for collecting fees for water collected. This will be used to maintain the water points and provide chemicals for water treatment.
As Haiti moves on from the devastation of 2010, we have begun to see the gaps in public health that led to the cholera outbreak gradually start to close. Already I can tell that tremendous progress has been made in the country’s readiness for the next emergency, a readiness that will no doubt save lives in the future.
DINEPA is still a relatively new agency, having been set up less than one year prior to the earthquake. Since its inception, the organization has had some major challenges to deal with. However, they are moving in the right direction and have been a very good partner for CDC. It is our hope that the initiatives and aid that we have provided here in Haiti will help to foster the growth of a self-sustainable and effective DINEPA program, one that will continue to improve the health of Haitians far into the future.