By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, July 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Walking door to door through the crowded streets of a slum neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haitian community leader Reynald Jean is on the front line of efforts to bust entrenched and lethal myths about the coronavirus.

One is that hospital patients are being given a deadly injection to increase the number of COVID-19 deaths so that the government can attract more international aid.

Another myth is that hospitals are testing a vaccine for the coronavirus on patients without their knowledge.

“In the community, people think of COVID-19 as a political matter,” said Jean, 45, who heads a local youth group.

Some Haitians say COVID-19 is not real. They point to the low official death toll, which has been linked to a lack of testing in Haiti’s underresourced and underfunded hospitals.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas with 11 million people, has recorded about 7,300 coronavirus infections and 160 deaths. In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of at least 1,000 people and infected 64,000.

“We know there are many people who have ailments such as fever, flu. They stay at home, taking care of themselves with traditional medicine,” said Jean, a father of four.

He and his small team give COVID-19 information leaflets to people on their doorsteps and to street and market sellers.

Sometimes they also hand out soap and chlorine tablets and place buckets of water next to street vendors for handwashing.

They have also helped to build a communal handwashing station at one neighborhood pitch where children play sports.

With two thirds of Haitians living in poverty and many homes without running water, hand washing and mask wearing are a luxury. Jean and his team also drive two trucks with loudspeakers to promote COVID-19 prevention messages.

“Wash your hands. Wear your masks. Practice social distancing,” are messages that reverberate through the densely populated streets lined with grey brick shacks.

As Haiti’s coronavirus lockdown has ended and churches have reopened, the challenge now is ensuring people understand that the danger has not gone away.

“We’re telling people: “The coronavirus is still here. It is imperative to continue to respect prevention measures,” Jean told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. continue reading

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