First Hand Account from Cholera Outbreak in Haiti
Motivated by Haiti’s need for help and inspired by her patients’ incredible acts of kindness in Haiti, volunteer, Kerry Quealy tells her story.
Note: This story is about a previous emergency response in Haiti. For updated information about how Project HOPE is responding to the 2021 Haiti earthquake and how you can help, click here.
Motivated by Haiti’s need for help and inspired by her patients’ incredible acts of kindness in Haiti, Project HOPE volunteer, Kerry Quealy, Durant Fellow from Massachusetts General Hospital blogs about her incredible experience.
I worked in the cholera treatment center at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti, serving as the nursing officer for Project HOPE volunteers. My mission lasted eight weeks and from the start, the cholera situation in Haiti was much worse than I anticipated. I was overwhelmed by the large volume of patients. I was amazed to see the numbers are actually significantly higher than they were with the original outbreak. It was truly a crisis situation. At the peak in June/early July there were close to 300 patients in the cholera treatment center, compared to a peak of about 80 last fall. There are constant fears about mudslides and flooding, which can lead to more cholera outbreaks.
I quickly discovered that HAS was in need of many more hands to handle the overwhelming cholera outbreak, so I helped to communicate the needs on the ground to Project HOPE’s headquarters so they could appropriately recruit volunteers. Aside from working alongside the nurses clinically, I collaborated with the nursing director in Haiti to make a schedule for the volunteer nurses and provide an orientation when they arrived. I served as their contact person here on the ground and assisted with any problems, questions, etc.
The health professionals at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer have adapted to the crisis in a remarkable way. As this was the second crisis, they were prepared for what was to come. I was amazed to see that with close to 300 patients in the cholera center at one point, we never once ran out of crucial supplies –we were always well stocked with IV fluids, catheters, tents, cots, etc. The hospital staff was fully capable to deal with the situation, but certainly needed the help of medical volunteers that arrived to supplement their staff. I think that medical volunteers make a considerable difference in that they can provide the many hands that are needed.
It is crucial that an NGO like Project HOPE act quickly because when a crisis first hits is when the help is needed the most. Once the staff has time to assess the severity of the situation, they can adapt and take the necessary steps towards handling it. However, when it first hits, they need all the hands they can get.
The patients and family members staying inside the cholera tents have had a major impact on me. The tents are in the sun most of the day, and despite being light in weight and color, they get very hot. I am constantly amazed by the attitudes of the people staying in these cots. People look out for and protect each other. Family members tend to their loved ones with all of their heart and energy, taking care of their every need. When a patient does not have a family member present with them, a stranger from the next cot over will take care of them as if they are family. I have seen the most incredible acts of kindness in these small tents. There was a man who had no food with him—his neighbors all gave him small bits of their food. A young man once sought me out to alert me that the IV fluid had run dry for the old man in the cot next to him. I assumed he was a family member, but later learned that he was also a patient and was just looking out for the man beside him.