Stark images of the ruins of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince has caused a worldwide relief effort. Nothing is more heart-wrenching than to see people in need unable to receive help. Good Neighbor Insurance applauds those who are able to assist in Haiti. But before you go, we urge you to consider the following guidelines for your health and protection.
A Healthy Relief Worker Starts at Home
Here are some things relief workers can do to make their trip to Haiti healthier and more successful before even leaving home.
- Update your vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommend the following vaccinations for anyone leaving for Haiti:
- measles/mumps/rubella (MMR)
- diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT)
- seasonal and H1N1 flu
- Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG) (even if only one dose is possible)
- Typhoid (injectable preferred)
- Hepatitis B (one dose may provide some protection, or an accelerated schedule can help if departure is at least 21 days away)
Haiti will need relief aid for years to come, and some of the immunization routines take time. Check with your doctor as soon as you know you will be going.
- Learn to avoid diseases for which there are no immunizations.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne illness common in Haiti. It is a disease that once contracted, you carry for the rest of your life. Preventing the disease is the best cure. Make sure to use insect repellant and wear long pants and sleeves while in Haiti. Sleep in a well-screened room or use a mosquito net. A prescription anti-malarial drug can also help but is not guaranteed. Fever and flu-like symptoms are common when a person has contracted malaria, so if you have these while you are in Haiti or for one year afterwards, tell your doctor about your visit to Haiti.
Another mosquito-born infection common to Haiti and the Dominican Republic is dengue fever. No vaccinations or medications are available to prevent dengue. The same measures for avoiding mosquito bites listed for malaria also apply to dengue.
There is a high prevalence of HIV in Haiti. Since HIV is transmitted by bodily fluids like blood and mucus, having a pair of latex gloves handy is a good idea even for non-medical personnel until the rubble from the earthquake has been cleared. Medical personnel should not become lax about using standard medical procedures for preventing these types of infections.
Special care if working with ill or injured victims in Haiti also includes prevention of the spread of tuberculosis (TB) since infection rates in Haiti are high. Anthrax precautions need to be taken if dealing with infected animals or products from infected animals. Personnel who do not have to deal with human patients or animals should not do so.
- Get travel insurance. Even the most conscientious relief worker can become sick or injured. With the shortage of medical care in Haiti, the likelihood of needing a medical evacuation to the US for any serious sickness or injury is high. Even in ordinary circumstances, medical evacuation flights are expensive. And these are no ordinary times in Haiti. Travel insurance coverage starting as low as $1 ? $2.00 a day can ensure you access to the care you need while protecting your pocket book from huge bills.
Stay Healthy While In Haiti
- Watch for physically unsafe conditions. Like all quake areas, the area around Port-au-Prince is filled with dangers from downed power lines, exposed wiring and mounds of shifting rubble. Haiti also has steep terrain and unstable soil which only adds to the danger. Leaks of natural gas, ammonia and various fuels are also possible. Sewer line breaks and dead bodies still buried in the rubble can spread disease. Standing water can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Also as with all earthquakes, there is no knowing when another aftershock will strike or how long they will continue. Eventually they should abate some, but the danger never goes away. Your job as a relief worker in Haiti may include using protective gear such as closed-toed shoes, work gloves and latex gloves. Check with your NGO about what to bring before you go. Also stay alert for thieves or gangs. Keeping your senses alert helps protect you from becoming another victim.
- Stay away from animals while in Haiti. Do not feed or pick up strays. Cuteness doesn?t matter when it comes to preventing such serious diseases as rabies and anthrax. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound well with drinking water and soap and get medical care as soon as possible. If you have been scratched or bitten in Haiti, notify your doctor when you return home so that he can keep an eye on any conditions that may appear later after their incubation period.
- Make protection from mosquitoes a priority. Wear light-weight long-sleeved shirts and long pants. These will protect both from the strong sunlight and from mosquitoes. Clothing can also be sprayed with insect repellent. Always sleep in a well screened and sprayed area or in a mosquito net. Reapply repellant frequently when working outdoors. Check the label on your product and remember that sweat can wear away repellant quickly.
- Eat and drink only safe food and water. Parasites live in the water and soil of Haiti. Drinking water needs to be bottled with the seal still intact, or it needs to be boiled for 20 minutes. Safe food is either well cooked or pre-packaged. Fruits and vegetables should be peeled at the time of consumption. If a knife or dish is used, it needs to have been washed in soap and drinking water. Water used for shaving and brushing teeth also needs to be drinking water. Keep dirty hands away from your face.
Good Neighbor Insurance is committed to the health and safety of relief workers all over the world. We have both extensive experience in the field and a line of plans to meet every need. So check out the plans on our website or call us today. Coverage can even be purchased online.