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 outbreak.
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 Association.
"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 Association.
Additionally volunteers at the convention-owned mission house in Port-au-Prince will begin assembling zip-lock 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 tarp roofs.
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. "Our food 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.
Barbara Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention's director of communications.
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