So here is a bit more about the visit to La Piste, a tent camp near the sea of 53,000 people. They have mostly been supported by Partners in Health in setting up the camp and providing medical care. However they govern themselves, there is a committee who makes all the decisions concerning the people and the NGOs who are there. We met with the committee in the tent of the head person, and by tent I mean their home. It was a tent just like one we take car camping, but it had a real bed in it, mats on the floor, a system for storing clothes, and was meticulously kept. We all took off our shoes and they let us sit on the bed while we talked. No one spoke much English, so again I was the spokesperson in French. They showed us pages listing all the people who live in the camp, along with numbers of children and pregnant women. Very organized and constantly updated.
We wanted to treat mostly the children and pregnant women, but to do that required that we share the tent of Partners in Health. They required we have a registration number from the Ministry of Health which we do not have, so there is still negotiation going on. The need to great there, but the potential for a bad situation to develop is also high. As we were leaving we had brought some things to give away, infant formula, diapers, toys, some first aid things. What seemed like an easy task became quickly scary, we were surrounded by about 50 people immediately, with more coming toward the car. The head of the committee encouraged us to leave quickly, but even that was hard, as the kids were all around us and not moving, it was totally sad and a bit scary at the same time. We did manage to give away what we brought, but you feel like it is such a drop in the bucket, the hopelessness of the situation is so apparent.
We learned a lot about how Haiti’s medical system works from meeting with the head of the hospital yesterday. It seems there are 2 types of hospitals: private and public. Regardless of insurance or not, in a private hospital you rent a room, your doctor visits you there and performs surgery or does the treatment, but you are under his care. The hospital itself does not have doctors, they provide the nurses and the rooms. And all of this you pay for yourself. The public hospitals are free to the general public. But here is the interesting part: 80% of Haitians will go to a voo-doo doctor (a houngan) first, then if they have the money and the access to a MD they would go to him (her). But outside of POP, there are almost no MDs, clinics are staffed by nurses and medical supplies are almost non-existent. To add to these problems, since the earthquake, the NGOs have brought down so many doctors and health professionals, that the Haitian MDs have taken a real hit. The doctor we spoke to had only done 2 surgeries since January, because everthing was being funneled through the NGOs. Rather than hire a Haitian doctor, they brought MDs from the US and around the world, paid as much as $4000US a month to keep them here, and all that money then went back out of the country, rather than remain in Haiti. Another example: they distributed $3mil worth of condoms in the last few months. They could have, for $2million, built a factory to manufacture condoms, and hire Haitians. These are the kinds of AID that would have long lasting positive effects on Haiti.
How does all this affect our work here? I came down here very anxious to TREAT people, to have them line up and help them feel better. This is definitely needed, and today we will be doing that. However, the real need, is to empower the Haitians to treat themselves, to offer them an alternative to poor health and death from preventable diseases such as appendicitis.
We have an appointment on Friday with the head of the nursing school here, and will see if we can set up some classes for nurses when we return.
Now we are off to St. Vincent’s to treat the children and staff of the school.
Word is that there will be a strike tomorrow, so we are wondering what that means. Thinking we might have to stay put tomorrow, not sure.