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Relief work in Haiti now includes cholera treatmentcomment (0)

December 2, 2010

In the wake of massive rainfall and flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas as it skirted western Haiti early November, disaster-weary Haitians are now coping with an increased spread of cholera worsened by bacteria-filled standing water.

The heightened cholera outbreak has led Florida Baptist officials to focus on the potential epidemic, said Dennis Wilbanks of the state convention’s partnership missions department, who traveled to the country Nov. 10–17, just days after Tomas’ onslaught.

“It is a potential catastrophic event,” Wilbanks said, even as the government and nongovernmental organizations’ efforts in water, health and sanitation have slowed the outbreak.

Alabama’s partnership with Jacmel, Haiti, has not been impacted by the cholera outbreak and so it is business as usual for state ministry efforts, said Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists.

In fact, he and three pastors from the state are headed to Haiti Dec. 7 to lead a pastors conference. And a team of five from across Alabama returned from an evangelistic trip Nov. 20, where 156 decisions for Christ were made.

“We are using normal third-world travel practices, such as drinking bottled water and making sure food is fully cooked,” he said. “We are also encouraging volunteers to get vaccinated for Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B and Tetanus.”

But while Jacmel remains relatively safe, other areas of the country are not.

Haiti’s Ministry of Health (MSPP) reports 1,186 deaths and 19,646 cases due to cholera as of Nov. 16, the last day that analyzed figures are available. Overall, the MSPP reports that 49,418 people have sought medical attention since the epidemic was declared.

Included in the cholera deaths are two pastors of the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti (CMBH), Florida Baptists’ partner convention in Haiti: Marc Edrouard Theodore of Eglise Baptiste Par la Foi K-Soleil in Gonaives, located in the Artibonite Association; and Alphonse Joseph of Eglise Baptiste Coupe-a-David in the North Association.

“It seems that the cholera actually started in the Artibonite Valley where the water flow decreases and becomes stagnant in the rice fields,” Wilbanks said.

The Florida convention is working in partnership with CMBH churches to help prevent and curb the spread of the disease in the churches and their communities.

The convention has allocated $30,000 to purchase water, water purification tablets and IV bags for churches in five CMBH associations, with the largest funding given to the Artibonite Association.

Additionally volunteers at the convention-owned mission house in Port-au-Prince will begin assembling zip-lock bags with sugar, salt and water purification tablets to distribute through the churches to needy families.

The convention staff has printed 50,000 brochures in both French Creole and English on prevention and treatment of the disease which will be distributed through the churches, drawing on resources prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Education is a key ingredient in the prevention and treatment of cholera,” Wilbanks said. “Prevention is most critical.”

Additionally, Wilbanks said hydration is necessary to help those who have the disease to overcome it.

With bags of water supplies, church members with cholera can be treated by remaining hydrated to lessen the need or treatment at overcrowded hospitals.

While in Haiti, Wilbanks heard reports and assessed damage from Hurricane Tomas. While there were “limited deaths due to the flooding, every association experienced some devastation mostly from flooding and rushing water,” he said. Many new churches lost their tarp roofs.

The convention has been caring for the hunger needs in the hardest hit areas, Wilbanks reported.

“Our response to meet the needs of the Haitian people has been proactive,” Wilbanks said. “Our food distribution is at least a week ahead of where we would have been because we had rice located throughout the country and Buckets of Hope scheduled for distribution.” (BP)

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