Hammering, shouting and the smell of fresh wood – it’s just like any construction site in the UK. Except this is special. This is Save the Children’s new Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU) in Leogane, Haiti, the epicentre of the earthquake. The men are still putting the finishing touches to the unit, but the doors have already opened, and patients are being admitted.
One of the first to arrive is 12-year-old Lucien. He learned about the symptoms of cholera at school, so when he started to feel sick he told his mother that he thought he had the disease and she brought him straight here. The doctor gave him an oral rehydration solution (a mix of water, salt and sugar) and he’s feeing much better, although he is still very tired.
It’s a great example of how Save the Children is tackling the cholera outbreak – through both prevention education in schools and communities and treatment at clinics when it does occur. The education can vary from hygiene-promotion songs in Creole to hand-washing demonstrations by community volunteers.
The local community are very interested in the cholera clinics – crowds have gathered outside, and some people have even brought chairs to watch the goings-on. For those who might struggle to reach the clinic on foot, the team here have ingeniously adapted a tap-tap (a Haitian bus) to give them a lift.
Chlorine is central to the management of cholera. As soon as we step foot inside the CTU our shoes and hands are hosed down with chlorine, and they disinfected once again as we approach the area where the patients stay. Everything is covered with blue wipe-clean plastic sheeting to help prevent the spread of disease, which gives it a faintly eerie atmosphere.
There are 30 beds in this CTU. It’s large compared to another one I see later in the day – a CTU right in the heart of Gaston Margron camp in Carrefour. They only have 15 beds but have treated 157 patients. When I visit that unit, the nurses tell me that they have no new patients and that the clinic is empty. We know that cholera cases can often peak again, but the nurses are cautiously optimistic – could it be that the worst has passed?
In total there have been more than 170,000 cases of cholera in Haiti, and around 3,600 deaths. Every one of those has left behind a distraught family – the latest burden on a country already suffering. Tonight, I go to bed pleased that Lucien is unlikely to become part of this statistic and will soon be back at school playing football with his friends