Jhpiego Team Leaves Haiti; Health Services for Pregnant Women Improve Day by Day
After a grueling mission to Haiti to help restore quality health services for pregnant women and newborns, Jhpiego’s Anne Pfitzer sat in the airport in Santa Domingo, typing up minutes from a work meeting on reproductive health and reflecting on an extraordinary 10 days in the earthquake-ravaged country.
The flight to Baltimore would leave soon.
The Baltimore team, Jhpiego’s Country Director, Dr. Lucito Jeannis, and the other Haitian staff had been successful in helping administrators at the General Hospital reopen the maternity ward and restock it with basic supplies and essential medications to serve pregnant women who were delivering their babies in medical tents. The ward had begun seeing patients for prenatal care and performing emergency Cesarean sections inside the building.
It was a good start, but some patients and staff still feared entering the building. They saw how a massive earthquake can collapse a house, a church, a government palace in minutes.
While we have confidence our Haitian colleagues are fully capable of supporting the maternity patients at General Hospital, part of me would have liked to be there as the reintegration of all maternity services takes place.
Of course I wish we could do more for those new mothers. I would like to assign one or more Haitian, Creole-speaking nurses to provide breastfeeding support, help organize more clean water for postpartum moms and give those newborns a fighting chance by at least making sure they can breastfeed.
We also discussed putting in a counselor who can connect homeless moms and their families with clean and safe shelters and other support services, including tent visits to check on mom’s and baby’s health, by neighborhood.
On Sunday, we spent a little time again driving through Port-au-Prince, taking pictures and videos. The Eglise de Sacré Coeur was a sad sight. And when we paused there, several young men approached us individually to ask about our mission and inquire about jobs.
One young man, Garry Janvier, is a teacher whose school is closed. Yet he recently took a two-month USAID course in water and sanitation. He was particularly interested to help educate people in Jacmel. So I e-mailed his phone number to a couple of organizations and hope someone will call him.
There was another, Samuel Saint Jean, who was just about to finish his accounting degree when the quake hit. He lost his mother, little sister and brother. His school is closed. He has no place to live and wants to use his skills.
At Lucito’s house, we saw the devastation of the two neighbors’ houses in the cul-de-sac and heard from Ferni, his wife, the incredible story of how Lucito rushed out after the quake, entered one of those houses and got an elderly couple and boy to leave the building only to have it collapse right after they stepped out.
Or the boy from across the street, who survived because he was outside but saw the building collapse and kill his father.
Stories like that are on everyone’s lips.
Quettly Chevalier, a midwifery instructor who was with 102 students on the ground floor of a three-story school, was the last to exit as the upper floors collapsed behind her. She lunged through a crack in the wall to the street. Her prescription glasses were left behind on a desk and now she can barely read.
As we travel back to our comfortable homes, our families, we carry those stories in our hearts, as well as a commitment to do more for our brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues in Haiti. May the rains be a bit late this year to allow all to get a roof or a good tarp over their heads, and let them be gentle so as not to cause any more damage or pain.
Rich Lamporte, Jhpiego’s team leader, arrived at the airport with little time to spare. Once he and colleague Dr. Willy Shasha boarded the plane, he too had some time to reflect on the road ahead for the dedicated Haitian medical staff with whom he had worked so closely — Madame Gourdet, the chief nurse in the maternity ward, and the others — and the pregnant women arriving daily for care.
How long will it take for the hospital workers to trust going into safe buildings? The same for moms in labor? Services across the spectrum, a continuum of care, from homes/tents to hospital, still have to be fully integrated. But we are committed to helping Haitian doctors, nurses and other health workers return to work to improve and support the health of women and their families.
The midwifery student we met, “one of the best” at the school that’s now in ruins, has the talent that can help rebuild Haiti’s health care services better than before. She doesn’t know when her final classes will begin. But Haiti’s pregnant women and new moms need her. How can she best use her talents?
Seven thousand pregnant women—all expected to give birth in the next month. After the earthquake, will they make different decisions about their family, the size of their family, healthy choices? Will they know where and when to seek care? Can men help, how can they be effectively involved?
Now with the rescue over, will international aid donors be willing to invest in efforts that will benefit Haiti in the near term and set a course for its future? Will a critical mass of donors decide to invest in Haitian leaders who can drive the country’s recovery? Haiti can emerge stronger from the quake.
And baby Edeline, what about her future? Is she still at the temporary orphanage? Is her toe healing? Is she still sleeping through the night? Eating as ravenously? Will she be treated as well as the boys are treated in the same clinic on the same day? Will I actually get the phone number for the pediatrician caring for the kids in her orphanage? Will she find a loving home?
What kind of Haiti might she face?
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