PORT-AU-PRINCE — In the wake
of massive rainfall and extensive flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas as it
skirted western Haiti, 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 worthy of keeping an eye on,” Wilbanks said, even as the
government and NGOs efforts in water, health and sanitation have slowed the
Haiti’s Ministry of Health
(MSPP) reports 1,186 deaths and 19,646 cases 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
“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
Additionally volunteers at
the convention-owned mission house in Port-au-Prince will begin assembling 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
The convention has been
caring for the hunger needs in the hardest hit areas, Wilbanks reported.
Rice that was previously
purchased and stored in each association was released and distributed by
churches to people in heavily damaged regions.
Freight containers of
Buckets of Hope have been moved into the areas and currently are being
distributed to families. The buckets, filled with a week’s supply of food aid,
were prepared by Southern Baptists in response to the Jan. 12 earthquake. Many
of the containers shipped from the U.S. were held up by Haiti customs officials
who were overwhelmed by the volume of humanitarian shipments after the quake.
“Our response to meet the
needs of the Haitian people has been proactive,” Wilbanks said.
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,” he added.
Working with the area
director of missions in Haiti, the Florida convention, with a continued
presence of volunteers and staff in the country, will continue to keep a
watchful eye on the situation, Wilbanks said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Denman is
the Florida Baptist Convention’s director of communications.)