By Enrique Jair Guevara
In October 2010, the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Public Health raised the first cholera alert and subsequently reported the country’s first case the following month. As a result of the emergency, an appeal was launched to support cholera operations in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In the Dominican Republic, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies contributed to the response with regional intervention teams and the Americas emergency health coordinator, who helped support and strengthen the National Societies procedures during the operation.
Since the beginning of the operation the Dominican Red Cross has continued to work closely with the ministries of public health and education in both prevention and response to health emergencies. As part of the ongoing work of the National Society, members of the Dominican Red Cross participate and promote community education, prevention, water and sanitation, and also provide support to health centres.
To date, the Cholera Operation in Dominican Republic has carried out a comprehensive prevention and control programme directly reaching 361,23 beneficiaries. 150 Dominican Red Cross volunteers received training in psychosocial support and provided this support to diarrheic disease patients. Volunteers also contributed to the Dominican Red Cross youth volunteer programme by helping to spread the hygiene message to children in 10 urban communities, using games, puppets, and performances such as the chole-rap, a song which teaches listeners the steps to preventing cholera.
At the end of last year the Ministry of Public Health published a community and social mobilization framework aimed at reducing the cases of cholera in the country. According to Dra. Farah Ninoska Peña Pimentel, Community Health Coordinator of the Dominican Red Cross, the framework aims to strengthen the community component in the prevention of cholera and other health issues. “We had the opportunity to see this in action. The way it works is by involving the community in a discussion so that it is more of a conversation. We don’t just want to talk about cholera, we want communities and students to express themselves.” The programme has already had very positive effects. “The idea is to empower the community so that they can become a fundamental piece in the fight for their own health, strengthening resilience by strengthening local capacities.”
The Dominican Red Cross’s close collaboration with the government in fulfilment of its auxiliary role is important. “The collaborative work we have started must continue both in the capital and provinces,” Dra. Peña says. “We must continue to teach communities that are hard to reach and do not have the equipment or human resources. We must strengthen this component so that we are better prepared.”
In addition to these face to face programmes, the Dominican Red Cross has sent 1.9 million disease prevention and awareness SMS messages to more than 1.5 million mobile phone users. Moreover the organization extended the reach of these messages using social networks to increase awareness and visibility of the work being done.