Red Cross working with Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health to stop the spread of chikungunya virus

Published: 3 July 2014 14:57 CET

By Lorraine Taggart, IFRC

A new epidemic has struck the small island country of Haiti. Since the confirmation of cases of chikungunya by Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), more than 39,000 cases have been confirmed  in Haiti, 70 per cent in the West department.

Chikungunya is an infectious disease caused by an arbovirus of the family ‘Togaviridae’ transmitted by mosquitoes. This disease is characterized by sudden onset and high fever, excruciating joint pain particularly in the hands and feet, tremendous fatigue, headache, sometimes accompanied by rashes and nausea. Since its discovery in Tanganyika, Africa, in 1952, chikungunya virus outbreaks have occurred occasionally in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The MSPP has teamed up with the Haiti Red Cross Society to reinforce community interventions and awareness to stop the spread of this disease. Since there is no vaccine for the disease, prevention is key and the Red Cross in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has begun disseminating messages to the population on how to prevent this disease, to recognise its symptoms, and how to treat it.

The Haiti Red Cross Society has strengthened its epidemic response system to include chikungunya response, mobilizing its network of volunteers trained in epidemic control to contribute  to the reduction of cases of this virus as well as the potential socio-economic impact.

A national fumigation campaign, established by the State is currently underway in all the ten geographic departments of country. The aim is to minimize the number of mosquitoes as well as to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs.

Since late May, painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs were distributed to all health centres. Mass media have been mobilised to share public awareness messaging including health advice. This has been intensified especially during the World Cup Football to take advantage of the high audiences tuning in for matches.

Radyo KwaWouj (the bi-weekly Red Cross Society radio show) broadcast an episode specifically on the chikungunya virus to let the population know what preventive measures can and should be taken.  

In response to this emerging epidemic that has touched all parts of the country, the Red Cross has drafted a plan of action detailing proposed measures to be taken in order to curb the spread of chikungunya. The main objective of this plan of action is to contribute to the reduction of the number of chikungunya cases particularly in the most vulnerable communities. The implementation of this plan of action is being supported by the IFRC and partners of the international  Red Cross Movement in Haiti.

Certain activities to guarantee that this takes place include: donation of material to MSPP to carry out the fumigation campaign and treatment of breeding sites; public awareness on the principles of environmental sanitation; distribution of mosquito nets and pamphlets with key messages on prevention of chikungunya;  active monitoring of cases.

“The Health department of the society has mobilised its entire network of volunteers in order to assist the population. The Red Cross intends to support the Ministry of Health in providing fumigation equipment and other materials to eliminate mosquito breeding sites,” says Dr Junior Clergé Agénor, Director of Health.   

Dr. Agénor adds, “During this phase of intervention, we will mobilise our entire network of volunteers for a period of about three months, in order to implement sensitization activities and sanitation campaigns in the aim of reducing the over-abundant mosquito population in our homes.”

As this virus continues to spread, the society urges everyone to use mosquito nets, mosquito repellents, and wear protective clothing to avoid being bitten by infected mosquitoes.