MSF teams treating cholera patients in Saint-Marc, Artibonite region, Haiti

Assessment teams sent to Mirebalais and Petit Riviere.

Following the confirmation of a cholera outbreak in the Artibonite region of Haiti, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams are treating patients with symptoms of cholera in the city of Saint Marc.

"There are significant numbers of patients in St. Nicholas Hospital in St. Marc, which does not have the capacity to handle a cholera emergency, said Federica Nogarotto, MSF emergency coordinator in St. Marc. “The most important thing is to isolate the cholera patients there from the rest of the patients, in order to best treat those people who are infected and to prevent further spread of the disease. This will also enable the hospital to run as normally as possible.  We are setting up a separate, isolated cholera treatment center now."

MSF has 20 staff, including doctors, nurses, logistical specialists, supporting the St. Nicholas Hospital. They are isolating the sick from the rest of patients already admitted to the hospital before the outbreak.

Patients are given an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to replace fluids lost from diarrhea and vomiting symptoms of a cholera infection. Patients too sick to drink the ORS are given infusions intravenously.

An MSF emergency team has assessed the situation in Mirebalais and is in contact with the local health authorities on any additional staff and supplies required to treat patients. A seven-person team has been dispatched to Petit Riviere. These teams will assess medical facilities and rural areas. A cargo plane with 100 metric tons of medical, water and sanitation supplies is leaving this weekend to provide additional supplies to the MSF teams on the ground.

Isolating suspected cases, hygiene promotion through education and provision of soap, and distribution of safe drinking water are key elements to prevent further transmission of cholera. Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by bacteria carried in human feces and can be transmitted by water, some foodstuffs and, more rarely, from person to person. The main symptoms are watery diarrhea and vomiting, which lead to severe dehydration and rapid death if not treated promptly.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated three to five million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths due to cholera every year in the world. MSF has responded to cholera outbreaks this year in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Zambia.

MSF activities in Haiti

In Haiti, 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.