Updates & Alerts

Chasing Cholera: A Report from Artibonite, Haiti

By Crystal Wells, Communications Officer

Here in Artibonite, it’s often hard to tell the living from the dead. So many are somewhere in between, their bodies limp and pupils rolled back in their skulls. Their pulses are a meek patter and their breath so faint that you have to lean in closely to see the chest rise and fall with strained gasps for air.

Cholera now plagues this region in northwestern Haiti where the outbreak was first confirmed on October 23. The disease has already claimed more than 1,000 lives and hospitalized 16,799 more. The truth is the numbers are likely much higher. Travel to Artibonite and people will quickly tell you about those who died on their way to the hospital or entire families that passed away in their homes, only to be discovered later by neighbors.

I traveled to Artibonite to meet our Cholera Emergency Response Team, who have established three Cholera Treatment Centers and supported various local hospitals since the outbreak was first confirmed. While the number of cases is now starting to plateau in Artibonite, the outbreak is still spreading – reaching Port-au-Prince and other areas along the southern peninsula.

When I step into the hospital, I am immediately hit by the smell of vomit and chlorine.

Patients file in, often carried by relatives, into the triage, where they are assessed based on their level of dehydration. Those who are not severely dehydrated are instructed to sip oral rehydration salts (ORS) while nurses monitor their progress. For those with little fluid left, they are transferred into the hospital for IV fluids and monitoring.

Soon after I arrive, a man and woman shuffle in, carrying two half-conscious boys. They tell the triage nurses that the boys had been sick for two days, but this was their second time at the hospital. The grandmother, Saintilia, 45, says that the serum that they gave her was working and they would like some more. The boys are given plastic cups with ORS and instructed to take a seat and sip slowly, so the nurses can monitor their condition.

She brings the plastic cup to her grandson’s lips and goes on to ask if I’d heard of the flooding from Tomas. “People dropped dead on the street,” she says. “The flood waters went over [the bodies] and then into homes.