Cholera's a bad disease. But it's quite preventable, even in the most squalid places. It just takes the right information — and the ability to act on it quickly.
So the Red Cross has been blasting SMS messages twice a day to cell phone users in the epicenter of Haiti's cholera outbreak, the Artibonite River Valley, and to those in Port-au-Prince, who might see a cholera epidemic any day.
Today, for instance, 30,000 cell phone users in the Artibonite district will get this message:
Kwa Wouj: Bwe seròm oral pou ka trete dyare. Yon lit dlo trete, 8 ti kiyè sik, 1/2 ti kiyè sèl.
That means: "Drink ORS (oral rehydration solution) to treat diarrhea. One liter of treated water, 8 teaspoons of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt."
Epidemiologists working with the International Organization for Migration are also using cell phones to track people, many of whom could be infected, who are leaving the Artibonite region where the epidemic first struck, as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports.
In Port-au-Prince, 350,000 cell phone users are getting a different message in Creole geared toward prevention rather than treatment. It says: "Wash your hands thoroughly with soap to protect against cholera – front, back, between the fingers and nails for 20 seconds."
Meanwhile, 200 Red Cross volunteers are working seven days a week, going tent-to-tent in the capital's crowded displacement camps, talking up cholera prevention.
The goal is to reach 70,000 people this week, a half-million within a month. More than 2.5 million people live in Port-au-Prince.
The workers are handing out soap, oral rehydration packets and water purification tablets.
But all the information in the world won't work unless people have access to clean, or purified, water to drink, cook, and wash.