Haiti – Cholera

The response and reconstruction effort following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti required a surge of thousands of personnel from non-government organizations (NGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies. To secure operations, the UN also scaled up the MINUSTAH (translated, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) program and brought in troops from around the world. In October of 2010, a few days after the arrival of a new medical team rotation of prior service military medics, people began getting sick in Saint Marc, a coastal town downstream from the Nepalese MINUSTAH base leaking raw sewage.

After hearing news of a potential outbreak, the Global DIRT team quickly traveled up to Saint Marc. On the way to the town, it was confirmed that the outbreak was caused by cholera. Global DIRT personnel inserted into the St. Nicolas hospital where patients began arriving by the dozens. Concerned about safety, MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders) personnel left for the evening, leaving the DIRT team with hundreds of patients. The hospital was overrun by patients the first night, and personnel worked straight through to provide care. In the coming days, hundreds of Haitians would succumb to the effects of cholera. Thousands were infected.

The team then connected with the group Youth With A Mission (YWAM), who had a box-style ambulance and had been providing patient transports with a dispatch number being broadcast over FM radios. The ambulance crew was greatly in need of personnel reinforcements, and Global DIRT medics quickly responded to the call for help. The team provided transports around the clock until the vehicle rolled over and was totaled while responding to a call. The team then returned to Port-au-Prince and continued to move supplies into the area. A week into the cholera emergency, Hurricane Tomas formed to the east of Haiti and the team prepared for the imminent storm. Global DIRT brought in additional personnel and supplies in preparation for the cholera spread and to assist in the event of catastrophic damage from the hurricane.

As cholera spread across Haiti, the country was preparing for its presidential elections, and demonstrations and violence were occurring across Port-au-Prince. As a result of the violence, NGO movement was severely restricted. Global DIRT staffed night shifts at the only cholera treatment center (CTC) in Wharf Jeremie outside Cite Soleil where MSF was restricted to operating during the hours of 9am-3pm. Once the situation stabilized at that location, the team began work at the St. Luc CTC when violence shut down the airport and delayed the hospital’s incoming medical crews.

Cholera continued to spread across the country, ravaging remote villages that were unaware of the foreign outbreak. Global DIRT team up with Heliaviation, a German helicopter company, and utilized a BO-105CBS4 aircraft to conduct helicopter reconnaissance in rural Haiti. The operations allowed for the identification of disease spread as well as the disbursing of water purification supplies. The team also utilized the aircraft to medically evacuate critical patients to the Port-au-Prince airport and on to the U.S. for next level of care treatment.

Cholera is still spreading in Haiti. To date, over one million have contracted the disease and over 8,000 have died. Operations to combat the spread and assist patients are ongoing.