Haiti: Cholera Treatment Continues, Assessments Underway in North

MSF teams in Port-au-Prince remain prepared; treatment centers offer best defense

As of October 31, MSF had treated close to 3,600 people who presented to medical facilities with acute or severe cases of diarrhea, symptoms consistent with possible cholera infection.

Haiti 2010 © Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MSF medical staff treat patients in a cholera treatment center inside a Ministry of Health hospital in St. Marc, north of Port-au-Prince in the Artibonite Region.

In the midst of the current cholera outbreak in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams continue to treat patients.  As of October 31, MSF had treated close to 3,600 people who presented to medical facilities with acute or severe cases of diarrhea, symptoms consistent with possible cholera infection.

MSF teams are currently supporting two Haitian Ministry of Health hospitals in the Artibonite Region, where the cholera outbreak originated. At St. Nicholas Hospital in St. Marc, 170 people are on average admitted daily. Further south, in Petite Riviere, approximately 150 people are admitted per day in the hospital there. 

Haiti 2010 © Gregory Vandendaelen/MSF

In Port-au-Prince, MSF has five facilities ready to treat cholera patients and plans to have 800 beds available soon, should the outbreak spread to the capital. This is MSF's 230-bed CTC in Tabarre area.

At MSF’s own five facilities in the capital, Port-au-Prince, teams are prepared to treat people presenting with cholera-like symptoms, with more than 300 beds already set aside for treatment in cholera treatment centers (CTCs).  Up to 800 beds will be available soon, should the outbreak spread.  A few dozen people suffering from severe diarrhea have been treated over the last days at MSF facilities in the city.  A 20-bed CTC has also been set up in Leogane, where MSF already runs a hospital. 

“Critical to the effective treatment of cholera is having cholera treatment centers, where patients can be isolated,” said Jean Pletinckx, MSF emergency coordinator in Haiti. “Cholera is a highly treatable and preventable disease, especially once symptomatic patients are treated in a controlled environment like a CTC. The presence of CTCs in cholera-affected areas can relieve pressure on local hospitals and health structures, greatly reducing the risk of infection among pre-existing inpatients and the wider community.”

MSF activities are expanding in the north of the country. A 30-bed CTC is being prepared by MSF in Gonaives. Elsewhere in the north, assessments are being carried out in Port de Paix, Pont Sonde, Dessaline, Villard, La Chapelle, and Lester, to determine if treatment interventions are necessary.  Other assessments are being conducted south and east of St. Marc, in Archaie, Cabaret, and Verrettes. In Montrouis, MSF has provided treatment materials, including cholera beds, to the health center there. Additional explorations are planned for Gros Morne, Bassin Bleu, and Saint Michel de L’attalaye.

In all the areas where MSF is working, teams are conducting community outreach to advise residents on how to prevent cholera infection and how it can be easily treated and cured.

“While cholera and cholera-like symptoms can present very quickly and become life-threatening, unnecessary deaths can easily be averted with swift access to properly equipped and staffed facilities in close proximity to outbreak areas,” said Dr. David Olson, MSF medical adviser and cholera specialist in Haiti.

MSF currently has close to 60 international staff and more than 500 national staff devoted to its various cholera interventions. Additional staff is expected. Two cargo planes bearing 150 tons of medical supplies for cholera treatment have arrived, the latest plane arriving October 30. 

MSF has extensive experience intervening in cholera outbreaks in varied locations throughout the world, treating 329,000 people between 2006 and 2009. In the last year, MSF has carried out cholera interventions in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Zambia.

MSF Activities in Haiti

While cholera intervention activities continue, all normal MSF operations in Haiti, including postoperative care, maternal care, secondary care, surgery, and mental health programs, continue without interruption.

MSF has more than 3,000 Haitian and international medical and non-medical staff providing assistance to the population. They run seven private, free-of-charge, secondary-level care hospitals and support two Ministry of Health structures in Port-au-Prince, accounting for nearly 1,000 hospital beds in the capital city. These facilities provide emergency, trauma, obstetrical, pediatric, maternal, and orthopedic care services. Mental health care and treatment and counseling for victims of sexual violence are also provided by MSF.

Outside the capital, MSF supports Ministry of Health hospitals in the cities of Leogane and Jacmel with nearly 200 beds of patient capacity. MSF opened a private 120-bed container hospital in Leogane in October.

From January 12 to September 30, MSF has treated more than 339,000 people, performed more than 15,700 surgeries, and delivered more than 9,900 babies. MSF also provides primary medical care and relief supplies to displaced persons living in various camps in Port-au-Prince through mobile and fixed clinics, and is carrying out water-and-sanitation services to displaced persons in the Cite de Soleil slum.