HHI Responds to Zika Outbreak in Haiti
In 2014, Haiti was hit hard by the arrival of Chikungunya, a debilitating virus spread by mosquitos, which sickened thousands. The experience of responding to the arrival of that virus in Haiti has helped guide Heart to Heart International in its response to the outbreak of Zika.
Treating patients with mosquito-borne illnesses is unfortunately nothing new for HHI’s Haitian medical teams, as daily they come into contact with people suffering from mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya.
“People feel powerless against the mosquitoes,” said Dr. Jackenson Davilmar, HHI Haiti Medical Director, “their houses are not protected, they have lots of breeding sources in their neighborhoods”.
As there is neither vaccine nor cure for Zika, education is key in keeping infections down.
The battle against the spread of Zika takes place in doctor/patient encounters at HHI’s clinic sites and in community meetings, as residents are informed about Zika fever – the risks, symptoms and treatment, and guided in how to implement vector controls, like using treated mosquito nets and repellant, adding screens/mesh on windows and eliminating mosquito breeding sites like standing water.
Additionally, medical personnel are talking with women, before and during pregnancy, about the Zika virus and possible links to birth defects. Given the magnitude of the suspected danger for pregnant women and their babies developing microcephaly, we’re focusing on maternal/child health.
Dr. Davilmar says, “our teams are already instructing patients on how to destroy the sources of mosquitoes in their neighborhood and to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Our medical staff is also providing guidance to women who come to our clinics, telling them the risks as we know them, so they can be better informed.”
HHI is not only educating communities to the virus and its risks, but has been providing insect repellant to help keep the mosquitos carrying the Zika virus at bay.
To bolster the effort of HHI’s medical teams, approximately 100 trained community health workers working on Kore Fanmi, a joint HHI project with UNICEF, have been re-assigned to assist in spreading the word about Zika fever. These health workers are already embedded in communities across the southeast of Haiti allowing HHI to move quickly and cover more territory to reach as many people as possible.