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The cholera outbreak in Haiti that's killed 250 people is affecting participants in Heifer's projects there. Heifer International sent out the following release today:

Heifer Haiti staff not infected by cholera outbreak; disease claims project members

Justin Alcé, Heifer International’s Haiti country director reports that in-country staff has not been infected by the cholera outbreak reported in the earthquake-ravaged country, but that some Heifer program participants have lost family members.

In a conversation with leaders of the Alliance Pour la Gestion de L’eau et de Reboisement (AGRE), an organization working with Heifer on a sustainable farming enterprise, two project program participants fell victim to the deadly disease in Liancourt, in the Artibonite region of Haiti, Countrywide, cholera has killed more than 250 people and left more than 3,100 hospitalized. Officials report that animals, too, are dying in the cholera outbreak.

The most affected region is the Lower Artibonite, Central plateau and some regions in the western department (Archaie, La Gonâve Island and Cabaret, some 35 kilometers from the capital of Port-au-Prince). The Artibonite and central plateau were chosen for Heifer Haiti project sites because of the high concentration of internally displaced people (those who fled Port-au-Prince for rural areas) following the January 2010 earthquake.

Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, a serious and growing problem in the earthquake-ravaged country. Cholera causes diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death without prompt treatment. Vomiting also occurs in most patients. No cholera outbreaks had been reported in Haiti for decades before the earthquake, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least five cholera cases have been reported in Haiti's capital, heightening concerns the disease could reach tent slums where poor hygiene, sanitation and widespread poverty could rapidly spread it. But officials said Sunday that all victims apparently contracted the cholera outside Port-au-Prince, and are hopeful the bacterial disease could be confined to rural areas where it originated.

In response to the cholera outbreak, aid workers are coaching impoverished families how to avoid cholera. Various aid groups are providing soap and water purification tablets and educating people in Port-au-Prince's camps about the importance of washing their hands.

Twelve cholera treatment centers are also being established and distributions of soap, water purification tablets and rehydration salts continue.

Heifer Haiti staff, supported by team members in Little Rock, is following reports of the disease and communicating and visiting with project partners and families where possible to monitor the situation for appropriate response.

The New York Times reports that the disease is spreading from rural areas to Port-au-Prince, but that fatality rates have declined. This is the first appearance of cholera in Haiti in 50 years.


Austin Bailey

Austin Bailey is a writer and editor for Heifer's World Ark magazine.