Thursday, October 28, 2010

Albert Schweitzer Hospital

Pittsburgh-area groups help Haitians to battle outbreak of cholera
By Bill Zlatos

Thursday, October 28, 2010

U.S. health officials are using Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti, founded by heirs to a Pittsburgh fortune, as a base for investigating a cholera outbreak that killed hundreds in Haiti.

"Right now, I'm meeting with eight representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Ian Rawson, managing director of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, said Wednesday from Haiti. "They'll use our facility as a base. We're right in the middle of where this outbreak has occurred."

The hospital is one of several groups with Pittsburgh-area ties addressing the latest crisis in Haiti. In January, an earthquake devastated the capital of Port-au-Prince, killing 220,000 people and leaving 1.5 million people homeless, according to the BBC.

Hôpital Albert Schweitzer was founded by the late William Larrimer Mellon Jr., a physician and heir to the family's banking and oil fortune, and his wife, the late Gwen Grant Mellon. She was Rawson's mother and Mellon, his stepfather.

The hospital is in Deschapelles in the middle region of the Artibonite River, where most of the cholera cases were reported.

Cholera is associated with contaminated water, poor sanitation and hygiene facilities used by massive numbers of people. It can cause acute diarrhea and severe dehydration, which can be easily treated. If left untreated, the disease can kill quickly. As of yesterday, 284 cholera deaths and 3,769 cases were reported in Haiti, according to the World Health Organization.

Last week, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer treated 90 patients with cholera — so many that it set up a separate cholera hospital.

"We admit 20 and discharge 20 a day," Rawson said.

In the first wave of the disease, he said, the patients were men who worked in rice fields and drank from the river. Now the patients are women, children and families. The CDC is trying to determine how the river became contaminated, Rawson said.

Deep Springs International, a nonprofit group based in Grove City, is ramping up to provide clean water. The group provides a $10 household system with three months' worth of water purifier and a five-gallon bucket and lid and teaches people proper sanitation.

"The fear is that the outbreak will spread into the earthquake zone where people are already vulnerable," said David McGinty, a board member of Deep Springs.

PPG Industries is helping Deep Springs by supplying a month's worth of chlorine tablets for community water tanks.

Global Links, a nonprofit group in Point Breeze, today will load a 40-foot sea container with mattresses, linens, intravenous poles and soap for shipment to Haiti. The group will send another container next month.

"When you have so many people living in a confined area with a lack of proper sanitation and potable water, it leads to conditions such as the cholera outbreak," said Kathleen Hower, CEO of Global Links. She visited Haiti last summer.

"Once it enters the camp, it's going to spread quickly," she continued. "People are very afraid."

The North Side-based Brother's Brother Foundation provided earthquake relief but has supplied nothing specific to cholera treatment, said President Luke Hingson.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at or 412-320-7828.

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