Health Team

N.C.-based Samaritan's Purse fights cholera outbreak in Haiti

Posted October 24, 2010 12:06 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse is one of many charities rushing to fight a cholera outbreak that officials say is the worst health crisis Haiti has faced since January's devastating earthquake.

Health officials said at least 208 people had died and 2,674 others were infected in an outbreak mostly centered in the Artibonite region north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"This is real. From what we’ve seen today, this is moving quickly, and people are scared,” Dr. Kara Gibson, Haiti medical director for the North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse, said in a statement.

Officials worried the next target will be hundreds of thousands of Haitians left homeless by the Jan. 12 quake and living in camps across the capital.

“If the epidemic makes its way to Port-au-Prince, where children and families are living in unsanitary, overcrowded camps, the results could be disastrous,” said Dr. Estrella Serrano, World Vision’s emergency response health and nutrition manager.

Cholera is a waterborne intestinal infection and causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. It can be treated with antibiotics and rehydration, but has a short incubation period and is fatal if not treated quickly.

Preliminary investigations show that the cholera outbreak was caused by contaminated water in the Artibonite River, which thousands use for bathing and cooking water.

Samaritan's Purse, among other aid groups, has sent a team of medical personnel and water and sanitation experts to Haiti.

"God has given us resources at hand that we don’t usually have available, so that we can mobilize and move quickly to respond," Gibson said.

The team brought medical supplies, water purification and decontanmination supplies, tents, tarps, oral rehydration salts, IV solutions, antibiotics and other equipment.

They set up two community water-filitration systems and began training people how to recognize and prevent cholera. The disease hadn't been seen in Haiti for decades, and many people lack knowledge about it.

The team provided also medical supplies and assistance at two hospitals. They had to use a helicopter to get past blocked roads and to get to a hospital in the heavily affected area of March and Dessalines.

They also went to a hospital in the seaside city of St. Marc's that was overflowing.

“The hospital is filled. People are lining hallways and filling up rooms and laying on the ground in front of the hospital,” said staff member Roseann Dennery. “The nurses are tired. Everyone is working nonstop."

Dennery said that patients are continuing to flood into the hospital.

"As we unloaded supplies, we saw motorcycle after motorcycle arrive carrying the weak and very sick, some collapsed and unconscious," she said.

Samaritan's Purse is an international charity based in Boone and run by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham.