HAUT LIMBE, Haiti (ABP) — A medical missionary couple in Haiti jointly appointed by American Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship says it has not yet treated any cholera cases but is focusing on community education and prevention to halt spread of the earthquake-devastated island's first cholera epidemic in a century.
More than 250 people have died and more than 1,500 stricken with cholera in Haiti's worst public-health crisis since the January earthquake. Health officials said the outbreak appears to be stabilizing, but new cases reported in Port-au-Prince have renewed concerns that the disease could spread through tent cities that house up to 1 million Haitians left homeless by the quake in and around the nation's capital.
Steve James, a physician, and Nancy James, a nurse, said in a blog Oct. 25 that they hear daily of more cholera cases arriving in north Haiti. So far all the cases are originating in the Artibonite Valley, a rural region north of Port au Prince and about 60 miles from the Jameses home in Haut Limbe.
The couple has been working as a team on community education and prevention alongside healthcare providers and ministry partners in vulnerable communities nearby. Their work includes addressing safe water and sanitation issues and preparation of community clinics to receive and treat large numbers of affected people in hopes of being able to contain the spread of cholera to the local communities.
Steve James worked Oct. 22 in the Ebenezer Community Health Center in Haut Limbé on a day when no cholera cases were diagnosed. Nancy prepared and helped distribute educational materials to providers and educators in the local communities.
They are working with Joel Dorsainville, coordinator of disaster relief services for the Haitian Baptist Convention, who is updating and coordinating efforts within the churches of Haiti. Next they plan to help two community health centers set up cholera treatment protocols and centers.
On Oct. 24 the couple participated in a conference on a method of solar water disinfection called SODIS — a simple procedure where contaminated water is filled in a transparent bottle and exposed to the sun for six hours. During that time UV radiation from the sun kills diarrhea-generating pathogens like cholera. The program has been operating in Haiti since January through the work of Medical Ambassadors of Haiti, a community health ministry and ministry partner to the Jameses.
Also on Sunday, ministry funds from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the American Baptist Churches were given to help purchase and transport medical supplies procured by Christian partners in the Dominican Republic. The funds will also help set up treatment centers to care for the very sickest, as well as to contain the spread of infection through health education, prevention and primary health care to partner community health centers.
The Jameses said they have been in communication with CBF field personnel nurse Jenny Jenkins in the south in Grand Goave. To date she had reported one cholera case hospitalized in Grand Goave after the person arrived from the north.
If large numbers of cholera cases develop in the north, the couple said, there is concern there will be a shortage of intravenous fluids, oral rehydration salts and antibiotics. The World Health Organization and international communities are working to address possible shortages.
"We ask for your prayers for protection for all at risk in Haiti, for the necessary education and prevention measures to be implemented, for the necessary medical supplies to reach the sick, and for strength and wisdom for those working in Haiti at this time that we all might serve in Christ-like love," the Jameses said.
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.