Public health information remains crucial in battle against cholera

Published: 17 November 2010

• More than 75,000 people called a toll free Red Cross information line to access information on cholera, and on how to avoid becoming sick.
• Red Cross is also using radio, sound trucks and trained volunteers to empower people against cholera.
• Value of information should not be underestimated in response to cholera crisis says Red Cross. As the cholera crisis continues to worsen, the Red Cross is re-emphasizing the crucial role of simple and accessible public health information.

“Given that cholera is now in Port-au-Prince, and given the sharp rise in cases in recent days, it is understandable that there is such a focus on treatment,” says Marcel Fortier, the head of the Haiti delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“But treatment is only a part of the response. Prevention is even more important, and we know that people are crying out for basic information on what can be done to avoid infection.”

At the beginning of the outbreak, the Red Cross sent more than 2 million SMS to people living in Artibonite and Port-au-Prince over four days, sharing simple messages about how people could limit their chances of becoming sick. Significantly, in response to this campaign, more than 75,000 people called a free Red Cross information line for more detailed advice on avoiding cholera.

This means that more than 20 per cent of people who were reached through the campaign called the information line. This is likely to be an underestimate as the capacity of the information line was quickly exceeded.

The Red Cross SMS, and the toll free information line, are the result of an innovative partnership between the Red Cross and Trilogy International, a global telecommunications provider and owner of Voilà, one of Haiti’s primary mobile service providers.

As well as SMS, the Red Cross has been using its weekly radio programme (Radio Croix-Rouge haitienne), radio adverts, and sound trucks to spread cholera prevention messages. In addition, more than 1,000 trained Haitian Red Cross volunteers have been active across the country disseminating this crucial information.

On 3 November, the Red Cross appealed to donors for almost 6 million Swiss francs to fund its growing cholera operation. So far, approximately half of this amount has been received. More information can be found at www.ifrc.org/haiti.

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