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Help for Haiti

Winnipeg father-and-son team seeks to help country devastated by earthquake

Help for Haiti
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BY MARTIN ZEILIG
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2010

A Winnipeg Health Region doctor is leading an effort to deliver medical care and other assistance to people living in Haiti, a country still struggling to overcome the effects of a devastating earthquake earlier this year.

Dr. Pierre Plourde, a Medical Officer of Health with the Region, will be heading a team of volunteer health-care professionals, including doctors, nurses, dentists, and other volunteers from Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Calgary.

The volunteers hope to arrive in Bon Repos, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, in May. Once there, they will provide medical and related assistance at the El-Shaddai Feeding Centre and Primary School, as well as at a clinic and nursing school.

The impoverished country was hit hard by an earthquake near the capital of Portau- Prince on Jan. 12. According to news reports, as many as 200,000 people were killed when the earthquake struck. A reported 300,000 people have been injured, 4,000 people have had amputations and 1.5 million people are homeless.

Although assistance has been pouring into Haiti for a few months, Plourde says there still is a major health crisis in the country.

"The health-care needs of Haiti prior to the earthquake were immense," says Plourde. "Prior to the earthquake, over 80 per cent of Haitians were desperately poor. Many did not have access to clean water and 40 per cent did not have access to medical care. Haiti has the highest infant and maternal mortality rate, the worst AIDS problem and the worst malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere. In the aftermath of this devastation, the health-care needs of this impoverished nation will increase tenfold," he says.

Plourde has worked in Haiti for years under the auspices of EMAS Canada, a non-governmental Christian agency that supports health-care initiatives around the world.

He first visited Haiti in 1982 when he was still a medical student at the University of Ottawa. "I went down there to do training in tropical medicine," he explains.

While there, he developed a friendship with his Creole (the local language) teacher, a gentleman known simply as St. Hilaire, who went on to become a church minister in Bon Repos. "He was a devoted man of God with a vision for the people of Haiti, who did marvelous work with the El- Shaddai Baptist Church," says Plourde.

Within a few of years of its founding, St. Hilaire's church went from five members to more than 500. Among other things, the church managed a program that fed 300 children several times a week, says Plourde. The feeding centre has been providing supplemental nutrition to hundreds of children for 15 years now.

At St. Hilaire's invitation, Plourde went to Haiti again in 2004 with a team of healthcare providers to help support medical and dental teaching clinics, the primary school and the nutrition centre in the community. St. Hilaire died in late December 2008 after being shot by thieves during an attempted robbery at his home.

EMAS Canada is also helping to put Haitians in a position to help their own citizens. For example, a "graduate" of the feeding centre entered medical school in Port-au-Prince, thanks to support from the organization. "Now, in her final year, she is anticipating graduation in 2010," Plourde says. In addition, there are plans to explore the possibility of supporting extended nurse-practitioner training for existing nurses in the community.

In 2005, EMAS Canada undertook a project to build a church and health centre in the neighbourhood to replace existing facilities. Land was purchased, but the project was shelved because the organization did not have enough money. "We had to put it on hold about a year ago because we just couldn't do enough fundraising. Since the earthquake, the existing school and church are a pile of rubble, so we've gone back to this property and we're looking at also bringing a team of architects and engineers in May to move ahead with a reconstruction project," says Plourde.

The Winnipeg doctor will be accompanied by his son, Daniel, an 18-year-old student at Kelvin High School, who will be making the trip to Haiti for the fifth time. Last year, Daniel procured over $500 worth of soccer equipment with financial help from a Winnipeg businessman to facilitate a soccer program for 13- to 21-year-old men at El-Shaddai Baptist Church. This year, Daniel hopes to assist in the pharmacy once again, and to help the primary school and the church community to re-establish their soccer program for local youth.

How you can help

Although the international community has responded to Haiti's needs in the wake of a devastating earthquake earlier this year, the country remains in a health crisis.

In a bid to help out, Dr. Pierre Plourde will be leading a team of health care professionals on a mission to deliver medical care and other assistance to the Bon Repos district of Port-au-Prince for a week in May.

His work is being sponsored by EMAS Canada - a Christian, interdenominational, charitable, non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Canada and in Hong Kong that partners with organizations in health-care initiatives around the world.

If you would like to learn more about EMAS Canada and the work it is doing in Haiti, please visit the EMAS website at www.emascanada.org.

In addition to supplying the basic necessities, Plourde says financial contributions will be used to empower the local community.

Wave: March / April 2010

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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