On August 3, 2011, Megan Brock, PIH’s new Haiti-based rehabilitation program coordinator, sent us a unique cholera update – one we’d like to share. Megan and PIH/ZL’s rehab team are working to ensure that disabled Haitians avoid contracting cholera and know what to do should symptoms present themselves.
I recently started working on the ground with the Rehabilitation Team in Haiti and have enjoyed a whirlwind first week. I’ve spent time getting to know the team and learning the needs of individual Haitians living with disabilities in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite. In many ways it was a flurry of excitement, planning for future activities and learning about the important work completed since the earthquake. While we continue planning future endeavors, Jean Louis Ernst (or “Ti Jean” as we call him), PIH/ZL’s Rehabilitation Educator, reminds us that cholera is the most pressing issue for all Haitians, including those with disabilities.
People living with disabilities in these communities are uniquely vulnerable to many health conditions, including cholera. As the second wave of cholera surged in Haiti, Ti Jean and the team took swift action to ensure that we had the necessary knowledge and supplies to help our patients avoid this disease. As Ti Jean reminds us: Our rehabilitation, advocacy and education work is about human rights. Those rights include clean water, access to the community and health care – rights we protect each day.
With our partners at the Disabled Person’s Organization (DPO) in Lascahobas, Ti Jean organized distributions of cholera prevention supplies to individuals with disabilities, their families and community leaders – including water purification tablets, oral rehydration solution to prevent excessive dehydration if someone becomes ill, and bars of soap for sanitation. He commanded the attention of the room, as he explained how to use each item and circulated to make sure everyone had what was needed and understood how to use each item. Distributions continued throughout the week as we visited patients in their homes.
The example that Ti Jean set this week is inspirational and in many ways speaks to the Rehab Team’s broader goals. While the team responds to the ongoing rehabilitative needs and chronic medical conditions of our patients, we also have to be aware of the acute concerns that arise and often have a great impact on individuals with disabilities. We react to the unique needs of this population through various mechanisms including accompaniment of individuals in the community and support for organizations like the Lascahobas DPO.
As I looked back on this week, Ti Jean’s work really stood out to me. It exemplifies the critical role community health workers like the Rehab Educators play in accompanying patients and guiding teams’ priorities in response to the needs of the community. As PIH/ZL and our partner organizations respond to this second wave of cholera, I am glad to know that the rehabilitation team is able to react at this critical time, reaching out to those with disabilities to ensure that they have access to the knowledge and tools necessary to fight cholera.