Nadisha Hunter and Daraine Luton,Gleaner Writers
THE MINISTRY of Health in Jamaica is on high alert in light of the outbreak of cholera in the neighbouring country of Haiti.
The ministry through the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) said it would be providing strategic management, direction and coordinated intervention.
According to the health ministry, the NEOC will ensure ongoing monitoring through heightened surveillance at all ports of entry, as well as at sentinel sites across the island.
"The ministry is on high alert as we recognise that there may be travel to and from Haiti especially given its proximity to Jamaica," director of emergency, disaster management and special services in the ministry of health, Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse said.
"We are scaling up all our surveillance and monitoring activities so that we can respond effectively if the need arises," she added.
postpone non-essential travel
Dr Bullock DuCasse advised persons to postpone non-essential travel to Haiti at this time.
She advised persons who might be experiencing any of the symptoms of cholera to seek medical attention immediately.
Alex Larsen, Haiti's health minister, has declared that the country was "in a sanitary crisis. This is a new woe for the country which has not seen this disease in the past."
World Health Organisation experts rushed to provide aid to northern Haiti and said initial tests showed traces of cholera. If confirmed, it would mark the first time that cholera has been reported in Haiti for more than a century, WHO said.
Stage one of cholera sees persons exhibiting symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and muscle cramps. There are currently no cases of cholera in Jamaica.
More than 1.5 million Haitians now live under tents in the country's capital of Port-au-Prince. In some of the tent cities visited by The Gleaner last week, dirty water flowed through the homes of many residents. In one settlement, water was gushing through a pit latrine and was finding its way in tents where people live.
However, there have been no reported incidents of cholera in the capital.
Meanwhile, Larsen, the country's health minister has warned of further health complications if additional work was not done to curb sexual behaviour in the Caribbean country.
Haiti's fertility rate has increased from four per cent to 12 per cent since the earthquake.
"We were just hit in Haiti by the worse catastrophe in the country's history," Larsen said as he spoke of the impact of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
"Our population is young, both men and women are ready to give their strength to the rebuilding of the republic. However, we need to remember that Haiti is a small country with 8.5 million people located on a disaster area for earthquake and hurricane."
He was speaking at Wednesday's launch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launch of its 2010 population fund report in Port-au-Prince.
In the meantime with the cholera outbreak in Haiti, which has so far claimed the lives of some 142 people and a further 1,500 persons suffering from cholera-related symptoms, telecommunication's giant Digicel has opted to assist.
Digicel, which has plastered Port-au-Prince with its branded umbrella and murals, yesterday dispatched a plane loaded with vital relief supplies to assist the affected persons.
The plane, which left Kingston, yesterday afternoon carried 2000 lb of vital supplies, such as oral dehydration salts, water purification tablets, hand sanitiser and soap.
"We are very sad to hear the news of the cholera outbreak in Haiti and our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti. We hope that the situation can be contained as quickly as possible and we want to do everything we can to help make that happen," Group CEO of Digicel Colm Delves said.