The outbreak of cholera in Haiti has to-date caused the loss of 3,600 lives and infected at least 171,000 people living in an already devastating situation. Elaine Burroughs, Logistics intern with Merlin, talks about responding to the epidemic and the difficulties of reaching people living in temporary camps since the earthquake.
“When I arrived in Haiti in October 2010, the earthquake response was planning the transition from emergency relief to longer term development. But two weeks after I arrived the cholera outbreak and the hurricane put everything back to emergency response in order to tackle the epidemic.
“The situation in Haiti was one of absolute chaos and instability. The difference with Haiti, compared to many other large-scale disasters, is that it’s in the middle of a huge city. Therefore, since the earthquake there are lots of internally displaced people living in camps all over the city centre and not somewhere outside of the city.
“Although there are managed camps that have been organised by the relief efforts, many of the camps have been set up by the community completely ad hoc. There are of lots of groups of ten or twenty tents together, set up after the earthquake in any available space that people could find. It’s these camps that are the hardest for people to live in because they’re not managed: tents are very close to one another and there’s no drainage systems for rain, waste water and sewage. It’s these tents that are the hardest for people to live in.
“But people are fearful of leaving the camps they are living in because they don’t own the land they are on. If they leave they worry that they won’t be able to return. Therefore they want to protect the small living space they have."
Responding to the outbreak
“In response to the cholera outbreak Merlin established Cholera Treatment Centres (CTCs) in order to treat people that are infected, and manage a strict hygiene regime in order to reduce the spread of the disease. We also set up Oral Rehydration Points (ORPs), which are first points of response where people can access oral solutions to treat cholera, as well as clean water and soap, in order to prevent a trip to the hospital.
“We were admitting approximately 400 patients every two weeks at our CTCs. Right now we’re reporting a fall in the number of patients, which suggests that the peak of the cholera outbreak - in the areas where Merlin has treatment centres - has peaked. This allows for us to scale down and move operations to continue responding to the outbreak."
Marking one year on from the earthquake
“Haiti is heaving with the international press community at the moment and I’m sure there will be a lot of negative press about the speed of the earthquake response. But I don’t feel that it’s a situation of despair. There is lots of energy and enthusiasm that things will change. Things are happening, change is underway. I think that the press need to report some of the underlying reasons why reconstruction may be slow and some of the difficulties of responding to, and rebuilding after this huge earthquake.”
Elaine is a logistics intern for medical NGO Merlin, based in Haiti. She arrived in Haiti on 5th October 2010 as part of 6 month placement. She is responsible for a range of logistical and technical activities including the procurement of medical equipment and antibiotics, and installing and managing radio communications for staff. Elaine previously interned with RedR from February to October 2010, working on RedR’s Technical Support Service. Elaine has also undertaken RedR’s Essentials of Humanitarian Practice course.
Photo credits: Images supplied courtesy of www.hannahmornement.com