Providing Water and Health to Haiti's Artibonite River Community

Providing Water and Health to Haiti's Artibonite River Community

Reeling from Shock

Estama Murat, Director of the Drouin Methodist School, cautiously hopes to reopen: “This obviously will not come easy," he says, "because we have many children still sick and other pupils have fled the village.”

Drouin is in Grande Saline, where the cholera virus was first discovered in the Artibonite department last week. The population of 17,000 is still in shock. Many of them left for the chief town of Gonaives, Mr. Murat explains, or toward Saint-Marc in the Lower Artibonite region.

The Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haíïti (SDSH), led by MSH, funded by USAID, has been supporting the Drouin health center for the past three years, to deliver a package of primary health services in maternal and child health and family planning. Through the USAID-funded project, MSH also supports a network of community health workers and traditional birth attendants for community outreach activities, ensuring that the services reach the people in need.

Drouin has paid a high toll in the Haiti cholera outbreak, with the deaths of 73 residents in just one week's time. The high volume of patients rushed to the hospital for care each day resulted in schools, shops and even private homes keeping their doors shut. Life revolved around the health center personnel and its capacity to calm the general anxiety and manage the worried families.

Mobilizing Community

Jean Robert Délivrance, Deputy Mayor of Grande Saline

A week later, Drouin seems to have contained its plague: “This is thanks to the immediate response given by many NGOs helping the heath officials to respond to the sudden tragedy” affirms Jean Robert Délivrance, deputy mayor of Grande Saline. “The infected cases have decreased thanks to the mobile clinics spread throughout the most isolated localities with massive distribution of water and water treatment products.”

Jean Emmanuel Thibert, a Ministry of Health ambulance driver who was dispatched to the Drouin health center last Friday, October 22, may finally get to breath a sigh of relief. In an interview on Tuesday he said, “Between Friday and Monday, nobody in this hospital had any rest, with all the contaminated cases coming in. Today is the first day I can breathe [with no one] deceased for the last three days.”

According to the elected official, the people living on the Artibonite riverside are following the appropriate messages about the risks of using the contaminated water. Community mobilization quickly worked wonders: “People have stopped using the water in the canals or the river,” he says. “But that is our only source of water and we have to rehabilitate it, our lives depend on it.”

Partnering for Health and Water

MSH quickly addressed the concern about water by teaming up with partner Pure Water for the World (PWW) and meeting with health and elected officials on Tuesday, October 26.

“Some of the communities have filters placed several years ago but are not being used properly. Water for drinking is untreated from the river,” says Noelle Thabault, Deputy Director of Pure Water for the World in Port-au-Prince. “So we worked with 21 community stewards on a plan to install water filtration systems throughout the villages to treat water.”

Thabault added that the hospital administrator at Grande Saline is receiving contact information and location of villages from the stewards, which will allow PWW to work directly with the communities to implement bio sand filters and hygiene education beginning the first week of November.

Pure Water and MSH will continue working together to adapt education materials and provide trainers to create a training module with special emphasis on the cholera outbreak. PWW already earmarked about 300 bio sand filters for installation in the Grande Saline area.

Providing Direct Support

Besides water and sanitation operations, the SDSH project is supporting the Drouin health center's emergency operations by providing necessary cholera related commodities: oral rehydration salts, water treatment tablets, bedsheets, medical staff blouses, towels and megaphones to increase the community mobilization capacity.

“We must absolutely keep the sensitization, keep the campaign ongoing” says Agma Prins, SDSH Chief of Party “that is the best way to prevent propagation of the bacteria.”

The Grande Saline Deputy Mayor agrees “Community mobilization was key to our battle against the disease and we must keep that strong. People have died and we are slowly working to change that.”

Estama Murat on his part, is relieved to have water treatment products to help the schoolchildren who will come back to focus on the school program. “I plan to re-open next Wednesday after the holidays.”

Note: In Haiti businesses and schools close for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the first and second of November.

With reporting by L. Soirélus