Using Technology to Combat Cholera in Haiti

By Lauren Haberkorn

 Red Cross Cell PhoneTo add to the troubles of a country already devastated by an earthquake last January and a hurricane this past month, a cholera epidemic has been slowly spreading throughout Haiti. This is largely due to the poor sanitary conditions in the makeshift tent camps in which a large portion of the country’s population now lives among the ruins of the cities.

Cholera is a water-born disease that affects the intestinal tract of anyone unlucky enough to come into contact. As the disease spreads there is fear that it will hit Port-Au-Prince, the country’s heavily populated capital. However, with the right information and the ability to act quickly, the disease can be preventable.

That’s where technology comes into the picture. Cell phones and text messaging are proving to be a solution as public health officials began an information campaign using radio broadcasts and text messages to spread disease prevention tips to the populace.

A recent NPR report stated that the Red Cross plans to employ such mobile technology to spread messages to more than 70,000 people over the coming weeks.  Authorities in Haiti are also using cell phones to track members of the community migrating from the center of the outbreak to other parts of the island in order to control the spread of the disease.

According to the NPR report, last week 30,000 cell phone users in the Artibonite district received this message, “Kwa Wouj: Bwe seròm oral pou ka trete dyare. Yon lit dlo trete, 8 ti kiyè sik, 1/2 ti kiyè sèl.” Which translates to: “Drink ORS (oral rehydration solution) to treat diarrhea. One liter of treated water, 8 teaspoons of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt.”

Cell phones have already played a big role in raising money for the Haitian rebuilding efforts earlier in the year, and it seems that the devices are once again being put to use for the greater good.  It’s interesting to observe that what we in the United States view as nothing more than the background noise of modern life may in fact prove to be a lifesaver for many Haitian people.

Lauren Haberkorn is a Corporate Communication major in the Diederich College of Communication.

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