Education Overcomes Fear and Superstition

We received news by email on September 18th that an anthrax outbreak was reported in Fond Baptiste. More than 100 cattle were stricken dead, nearly 50 people were in critical condition and by the time the news reached us, three people had died. The next morning, two more had died. There were huge challenges faced. First, many people believed this to be a mystical illness brought on by a bad spirit. They didn’t believe the illness is transmitted through the meat of cattle. They continued to eat the meat of the stricken animals. They refused to destroy the carcasses. They refused to vaccinate and many fell sick. Vaccination, too, presented its own challenges. It takes 14 days for the vaccine to take effect. Without immediate results visible, farmers doubted the effectiveness and didn’t want to participate in the campaign. A sick animal often has no outward symptoms until the vaccine is administered (which eventually causes death). This led the farmers to believe that the vaccine is the cause of death rather than the disease (this is true only in that the vaccine accelerates the timing of an inevitable death).

The power of superstition also proved to be an enormous obstacle in tracking the source of the infection. No one would tell where the animals died so that area could be burned clean of the spores (which can be dormant for up to 20 years). No one wanted to admit to being sick until it was almost too late for treatment. It was time to pray for the enlightenment of this community; freedom from fear and darkness.

The Development Centres established through the literacy project became the conduit for education and organization. The pcH staff who are based in Fond Baptiste were familiar with the community, enabling lives to be saved through quick and responsive action. pcH staff member, Godmeze, mobilized the ADEVKO (Agents of Development Kooperativ) to help fight the epidemic at all levels. An awareness campaign was launched to inform the community of the hazards of anthrax. Signs were posted on the doors of the Development Centres. A ban on the sale of meat at the Thursday market was requested. A quarantine was suggested for the two affected communities. A relationship with SADA (Service and Development Agency of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) was initiated to begin vaccination.

Then there was light.

Results of the awareness campaign became evident. People who believed the epidemic was a curse and refused antibiotics changed their minds. They saw the results of the antibiotic and shared the news with others. The ban on the sale of meat was supported and enforced by officials of the community (surprisingly, no cattle were allowed to enter the market area). Firewood being precious, old tires were carried up to aid in the burning of carcasses. Cooperation with SADA ensured that sufficient medication was made available.

However, the economic recovery will be difficult to overcome. One hundred cattle is a huge loss for this community. Greater still, the loss of loved ones due to fear and superstition. The task is great but new light is shining.

Your support has given rise to minds being opened and lives being saved. On behalf of the pcH staff here in Haiti and the members and families of the cooperatives of Fond Baptiste, thank you.

by Janet E. Bauman, Country Manager, Haiti

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