It is difficult to believe how much Haiti is suffering. Not only was its president assassinated a little over a month ago, but a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit last weekend with a death toll now of over 1400. And, if that is not enough, a tropical storm is quickly barreling its way towards the island where mudslides will inevitably cause additional deaths, injuries, and property damage. This is all amid an interim government that has not gotten its bearings after President
I had the privilege of visiting Haiti once. That was five years after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed 200,000 and injured 300,000. Even after five years I could clearly see where buildings had not been rebuilt and rubble was still bulldozed into corners across Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
Then, I went to see the work of Midwives for Haiti whose dedication to quality maternity care in the poorest country in the western hemisphere I admire greatly. While Midwives for Haiti was not immediately affected by the earthquake, there will undoubtedly be an increased need for its help in the region because as its Executive Director, Jane Drichta, said in her most recent newsletter, “Haiti is a small nation and what affects one, affects all.”
During my visit to Haiti two years ago I had the privilege of visiting two hospitals: L’Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley and L’Hôpital Sainte-Thérèse in Hinche, Haiti. Many of the patients at both hospitals, I learned, walked or took public transport over long distances for quality hospital care. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haitians need many more hospitals and health workers to care after their sick. There are currently only six health workers for every 10,000 Haitians according to USAID. And, Haiti has the highest rate of infant, child, and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere. Most Haitians live on less than $1 a day and their life expectancy is only 64 compared to 74 for its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.
Quality health care in Haiti continues to be one of the country’s greatest problems. In fact, Haiti only spends 6 percent of its expenditures on health care and relies heavily on international funding.
“Helping families lift themselves out of poverty means helping them build income and wealth, but it is a social phenomenon as well,” wrote Steve Werlin, the author of To Fool the Rain: Haiti’s Poor and Their Pathway to a Better Life. “And one of the social change we try to effect involves working on the way members look at themselves.”
It is quite impressive how someone’s mind and attitude can alter and reset the course of one’s life. However, in order to eventually arrive at that mind reset some people require a substantive hand out, constant observation and follow-up; not simply a prescriptive hand up. When looking at the lowest income countries in the world like Haiti a vast array of NGOs work to alleviate some of its inherent problems with programs that address the root of poverty. Some provide work programs, educational programs, health care, or even microloan programs. But some of Haiti’s families are so extremely poor they cannot dream of qualifying for many of these programs because they have virtually nothing. In fact, they live in such cyclical poverty they cannot feed themselves on a daily basis, or even every other day. In Haiti’s deepest far reaches and unfathomable rural areas are families who live in abject poverty far away from roads and towns. They require the most cumulative social programs designed by worldwide NGOs that specialize in the nuances of poverty reduction and eradication.
In Haiti, for example, one of those social programs is called “Chemen lavi miyo (CLM)” in Creole or a Pathway to a Better Life that is run by Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance organization. Even as a microfinance enterprise Fonkoze realized that to reach the poorest Haitian families means to provide overarching programs that teach rural women who qualify for their CLM program financial and entrepreneurial skills as well as life and relationship skills.
The United Nations has, at long last, accepted some responsibility that it played a part in a cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in 2010 and has since killed at least 9,200 people and infected nearly a million people.
This is the first time that the UN has acknowledged that it bears a duty towards the victims. It is a significant step forward in the quest for accountability and justice.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is frequently devastated by disasters – both natural and man-made. Yet cholera was not one of its problems before 2010. Then a group of UN peacekeepers was sent to help after an earthquake.
B.D. Colen, a documentary photographer, is currently in Haiti with our partner Midwives for Haiti capturing the realities of maternal health for many Haitian women who live in the country’s poor Central Plateau. The mothers who receive care from Midwives for Haiti are the lucky ones. They have access to prenatal care at mobile clinics in the region as well as in far-off villages with traditional birth attendants or matrones as they are called in Creole. Expectant mothers are also afforded quality labor and delivery as well as postnatal care in the hospital. Midwives for Haiti also teaches matrones how to perform safe, clean births for women who object to delivering in the hospital or for those who want to deliver in the hospital but it’s too far and they cannot afford transport.
Michael Wahl didn’t purposely set out to create an innovative cloth diaper for babies who live in the developing world as well as a humanitarian organization, Dri Butts, that distributes diapers to families in need. Rather, he saw it as a necessity to prevent diseases caused by the spread of fecal matter.
Many children in low-and middle-income countries have an increased chance of not living to see their fifth birthday oftentimes because of diseases whose cause stems from fecal matter. In fact, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death for children under five. Other fecal-related diseases are cholera and typhoid.
While visiting Haiti you will see that the United Nations’ presence is palpable across the country especially in the capital Port-au-Prince where the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is housed. During rush hour it is not uncommon to see countless UN vehicles with peacekeepers and leaders in berets (mostly men) among the many motos and cars driven by locals, buses, and NGO SUVs.
Roseline had delivered her baby during the chaos of our first day at Mama Baby Haiti, a birthing center for women near CapHaitian, Haiti. Mondays are the busiest day at the center, located on a dirt road just off Highway 1, as it is the intake day for expectant mothers that are new to the program. Three of us had arrived the night before from the early spring of Minnesota weather to be greeted by unseasonable warm Haitian weather – 95 degrees and high humidity.
While we were teaching 10 Haitian nurses and physicians asked about cervical cancer screening in a low resource setting and Roseline was laboring with the aide of a Haitian trained nurse midwife to deliver her healthy baby girl. She graciously agreed to be interviewed only hours after the birth of her child and shortly before she was to depart for her home (patients stay at the center for only 4 hours after an uncomplicated birth).
As is true for many of the 30-40 women who deliver at Mama Baby Haiti each month, she had heard of the program through a friend. She lives 20 minutes away and had been seen for five prenatal visits. She was appreciative of the nurse midwives that seemed to listen to her concerns and the cleanliness of the birthing center. This was Roseline’s first child. The father of her baby was sick and unable to work and she supported herself with side jobs and help from her family. The cost of her care at the center was much reduced from what her care would have cost at the local hospital. Without the services of Mama Baby Haiti, she would have had to deliver at home, either by herself or with an unskilled birth attendant.
Inside the child malnutrition unit at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, the largest regional hospital in Haiti’s Artibonite region, colorful murals have been painted over the beds. They were specifically designed to teach parents, especially mothers, how to keep their newborns and children healthy and well-fed.
This mural in Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti shows mothers the importance of breastfeeding their newborns as well as the importance of taking their babies to the Centre de Santé (health center).
Haiti has a 53 percent literacy rate making it imperative that health messaging at the hospital is conveyed through art as well as through color-coded words. For example, the hospital’s social services are all written in red so those who cannot read can easily find that department. Additionally, for those who can read all signs are written in French as well as in Creole as language politics in the region are quite heightened.
Mothers instead of fathers are more likely to tend to their children in the malnutrition unit like the mothers I saw when I visited. Some mothers were feeding their children and others were sitting with their children who were too weak to be awake.
Haitian women have a lower literacy rate than men in Haiti making messaging through art critical to driving home nutrition education in this unit.
Casimer Dieuvela, 24 years old and five months pregnant, lives two to three hours walk from her monthly health post in Deschappelles, Haiti, but she goes despite the distance to receive her tetanus shot. It’s her third time coming to the health post run by health agent Junior Exanthus and arranged by Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS). Dieuvela brings her daughter to receive her full course of vaccinations. HAS also immunizes … Continue reading [Photos] Haiti Works Toward Eliminating Maternal Tetanus
As in years past, the Nordic countries lead the world in being the best countries to be a mother and to raise children. Save the Children’s Mothers’ Index ranked countries based on maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status, and economic and political status.
Sub-Saharan African countries and Haiti rounded out the worst places to be a mother, with Somalia being the worst place on earth for mothers and children.
The sunny, steaming hot morning when I visited L’Hôpital Sainte-Thérèse in Hinche, Haiti, the maternity unit was overflowing with busy midwives checking charts and administering care, nurses-in-training in white and yellow uniforms obtaining requisite clinical hours, as well as a few obstetricians checking on patients. Of course, there were expectant mothers, mothers who had just given birth, and those who were being prepped to deliver their babies. Husbands and other family members milled about slowly, but deliberately, bringing food and water to their loved ones, or just sat on benches and waited.
In each of the maternity units – antenatal, postpartum, and labor and delivery – there was a bed for every woman. No expectant mother laid on the ground waiting for space. In fact, I even saw some empty beds. That is not always the case I was told. Some times of the month are busier than others, but each mother can be accommodated.
Some expectant mothers – many with swollen feet and ankles – walked around slowly outdoors in the sunlight angling for some type of momentary relief from the constant wave of contractions. Others laid in bed with worried eyes anticipating the incumbent pain they faced. When I visited labor and delivery, one mother’s screams were piercing and she wasn’t even pushing yet. Another woman was calm, smiled, and gave me a quick wave as I walked by despite her contractions. Midwives were attending to their care – calmly and respectfully.
As I watched baby after baby receive the pentavalent (5-in-1) vaccine at a mobile health post put on by Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti this week, their reactions were all the same. First, they were oblivious to what was going on. Then, they all felt a momentary prick of pain and the waterworks began.
Even though each of the babies experienced short-lived pain, they are now protected against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (thus replacing the former diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus vaccine), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), which causes pneumonia and meningitis.