Haiti: Getting Help Often a Challenge

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (March 15, 2011) – Editor’s note: This report is part of a week-long series of articles written by Stan Friedman, news editor for Covenant News Service, who spent five days accompanying a five-member medical team from the United States providing care to Haiti residents during a two-week volunteer mission.

By Stan Friedman

In addition to treating patients, the Covenanters working at the new Medical Teams International clinic also wound up serving as a sort of ambulance transport service and as advocates for those who needed admittance to local hospitals.

Pediatrician Mary Hakim could hardly believe the prematurely born baby she was treating had survived for a month. The child, born in one of the temporary shelters in the tent city of Canaan, had never been to a doctor and weighed less than four pounds. After treating the child, Hakim arranged for the baby to receive additional care at the hospital nearby. At the end of the day, the team took the mother and child there on their way home.

But getting the hospital to take the child was not easy, says Claudine Mamo, a nurse who works with Hakim at Covenant Community Care in Detroit. “You have to do quite a bit of convincing in Haiti to get people admitted,” she explains. “It also helps to have a bunch of white people (advocating), sad to say.”

The next day, a father and mother brought their infant son to the clinic. Less than two months old, the lethargic child was suffering from new onset hydrocephalus, most likely from meningitis and was probably septic as well. The boy also had been born in the tent city and had never received medical care.

“He was in very bad shape,” says Mamo. Not all the volunteers could be spared to take the boy to the hospital, so Mamo and a Medical Teams Haitian driver took the family. “Between his Creole and my French and English, we managed communicating with the all the people teaming up to make admission almost impossible. We finally left baby, father, and mother there with nurses who had been forced from higher up to admit the baby, but showed no good will.”

When the team arrived at the clinic one morning, a man already was lying there on a cot. He had low blood pressure and was severely dehydrated. “Eventually he admitted he had been diagnosed with AIDS,” says Tom Spethmann, a retired doctor of internal medicine. “The guy also was spitting up blood because he probably had tuberculosis.” Again, members of the team struggled to get him admitted into a hospital, eventually succeeding.

The only person the team had no trouble getting admitted to a hospital was a boy around eight years old who arrived at the clinic with cholera and was severely dehydrated. Cholera patients generally are accepted. Mamo rehydrated the boy over the course of four hours until workers with Global DIRT (Disaster Immediate Response Team) arrived and transported him and his father in the back of a pickup truck.

In one instance, the patient did not come to the team. Hakim, Mamo, and their driver, Charlie, were headed to the MTI house early one evening. They had just come from the hospital where they had negotiated another patient’s admittance when they happened across a crowd huddled around a man who was lying on the ground and bleeding. Someone had stabbed him with an ice pick.

“So back to the hospital the ambulance team went!” Mamo says.

To read earlier stories, click on the links below:

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