Of PIH’s 3,000 HIV patients in St Marc, a community at the center of Haiti’s current outbreak, none have fallen ill from cholera as of today, reported Dr. Suffrin Dimitri, the head of the HIV program at Hopital St Nicholas in St Marc. In addition, so far only one child has been hospitalized out of the 2,000 children enrolled in a pediatric malnutrition program operated by PIH and the non-profit organization ACTED.
PIH’s network of community health workers (CHWs) played a major role in this bit of good news among reports that the epidemic has infected over 4,000 and killed about 300 since it first broke out last week.
For over two decades, CHWs—including social workers and community health educators—have made up the backbone of PIH’s approach to providing high-quality health care to poor communities in Haiti. Trained and employed by PIH, they serve as a vital link between health centers and villages by regularly monitoring patients, delivering medicine, providing social and emotional support, finding sick neighbors and accompanying them to the hospital, and educating their communities.
So well before the outbreak, PIH’s HIV and malnutrition patients (and their families) were linked to health services through their CHWs. They had already received hygiene education and water filters from their CHWs, which helped to protect them from the disease, reported PIH’s Cate Oswald.
PIH Chief Medical Officer Joia Mukherjee also credits CHWs for helping to keep the epidemic mostly contained in the Lower Artibonite region. Thousands were already on the ground across the Artibonite and Central Plateau regions. They quickly mobilized and initiated an outreach campaign as soon as the outbreak was detected. Key activities included finding sick patients, educating remote villages on the importance of washing hands and drinking purified water, and distributing the soap and water purification tablets needed to do this.
“The community health worker network acts as a safety net against outbreaks like this,” said Dr. Mukherjee.
CHWs will continue to play a major role in PIH’s on-going efforts to treat and contain the epidemic. The organization recently drafted a $3 million cholera response budget, which includes substantial support for hiring and training additional CHWs and continued outreach and prevention activities.