New study tracks Haiti cholera epidemic online

A cholera patient receives treatment at a clinic near Port au Prince in Haiti. Photo by: Marco Dormino / UN

Social media are shaping the face of cholera response in Haiti.

In a new study published by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, researchers found that social media and Internet-based news were faster in delivering information about the cholera epidemic in Haiti versus traditional sources such as hospital and health clinic surveys. They said online news and Twitter feeds in the early days of the epidemic in 2010 were two weeks ahead of reports issued by the government health ministry.

The researchers said estimates from available information on HealthMap, a Web-based tool that monitors disease outbreaks around the world in real time and which they used in the study to gather data, matched very closely with case reports and figures from official sources.

“The techniques we employed eventually could be used around the world as an affordable and efficient way to quickly detect the onset of an epidemic and then intervene with such things as vaccines and antibiotics,” said Rumi Chunara, the study’s lead author and research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

Cholera continues to be a challenge in Haiti. The epidemic has killed 7,000 Haitians since 2010, and around 200 new cases are being reported every day across the country, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

Many are working to control the disease, including the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which will be launching Call to Action: A Cholera-Free Hispaniola on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

The call to action, which aims to move from cholera control to cholera elimination through investments in the country’s water, sanitation and hygiene sectors, will be held in press briefings in several cities, including at the PAHO/World Health Organization office in Washington, DC, at the Ministry of Health of Haiti office in Port-au-Prince, and at the National Palace in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Some of the key agencies involved are the PAHO/WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.