Public information and effective community outreach identified by World Health Organization (WHO) as the single most effective way of tackling cholera
In close coordination with the Government of Haiti, local media partners, the United Nations, international and local relief organizations, and health and civilian protection officials, Internews is helping to coordinate and disseminate a large-scale emergency public information campaign vital to the containment, prevention and early treatment of cholera as the World Health Organization (WHO) states "that a public information campaign can make the difference between life and death" in Haiti.
The government and the humanitarian community are responding to a cholera outbreak that is blamed for more than 250 deaths and over 3,000 confirmed cases to date, putting in place measures to prevent the disease spreading further from outlying St Marc, Artibonite, the epicenter of the outbreak, to the Port au Prince region and other affected areas by the January 12th earthquake.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and the Department of Civil Protection (DPC), Internews is assisting Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Haiti, a communications coordination platform, to rapidly roll out a comprehensive public information campaign using radio, television, megaphones, sound trucks and community-based mobilization, to communicate messages about cholera and cholera diagnosis, prevention and treatment. In addition, Internews is helping to broadcast an SMS message campaign from the Ministry of Health encouraging Haitians to text "Maladi" to 4636 to receive health information via SMS message on cholera, free of charge.
Internews is producing special radio shows of its own ENDK, News you Can Use program that reaches up to 70% of the Haitian population in partnership with over 35 local radio stations. These radio shows carry information on cholera, symptoms, prevention messages, the evolving situation, and responses by the Haitian Government and its humanitarian partners. These two ENKD programs have already been broadcast across Port au Prince and have been rushed to St-Marc to air in Artibonite on local radio stations.
Communications coordination is key
From Port au Prince and St Marc, CDAC is focusing on facilitating information sharing with local media, community outreach, and ensuring collaboration and support from all responders involved to the national communication strategy through the Ministry of Communication. CDAC Haiti is mapping the existing communications initiatives and capacity, identifying gaps and needs such as megaphones, speakers, radios and community mobilizers, as well as gathering approved messages on cholera treatment and prevention from the government.
CDAC, led by Internews in Haiti, is sharing all this information with the government, humanitarian organizations and local media in the affected areas and Port au Prince to ensure that messages transmitted are consistent, easy to understand, widely disseminated and approved by the relevant authorities.
“We know from past experience that unless someone is there to facilitate and coordinate communication, we will see inconsistent, confusing and possibly contradictory information going out,” says Imogen Wall, UN Humanitarian Spokesperson for Haiti. “All this is particularly important in this context as Haitians are not familiar with cholera and in environments like this misinformation and rumors take root very fast. In cholera epidemics, 80% of cholera patients’ lives can be saved through information: people need to know how to prevent transmission and identify and treat early symptoms especially if they are in remote areas where they cannot receive medical help.”