From Haiti with thanks

Dr. Pierre Plourde, a Medical Officer of Health with the Winnipeg Health Region, recently returned from a two-week trip to Haiti, where he worked as part of a team to deliver care and medical assistance to residents still struggling to overcome the effects of an earthquake in January. Here is his report.

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2010

Haiti was both a lot more fun than I expected and a lot more heartbreaking at the same time.

Imagine Ottawa without the Peace Tower, with the rest of the Parliament buildings lying in rubble, with the Supreme Court gone, with the Chateau Laurier destroyed, with all large downtown cathedrals demolished, with 90 per cent of the downtown buildings lying in a heap, with a UN peace-keeping force in charge of your infrastructure (what little there is of it), and with 40 to 60 per cent of the homes in all of Ottawa's suburbs gone. Imagine all of this and you will only begin to imagine how devastating the earthquake that struck in January has been to the Haitian psyche.

Nevertheless, my friends in the Bon Repos district of Port-au-Prince (whom I prefer to call my family, for they treat me like one of their own - calling me half Haitian and half Canadian) have done an amazing job of rebuilding since Jan. 12 when the earthquake struck, killing over 200,000.

I have been volunteering in Haiti since I first went there in 1982 as a medical student. In 2005, I became involved in efforts to build a new church, clinic, school and community health centre through EMAS Canada, a Christian, interdenominational, charitable, non-governmental organization (NGO). The project was intended to replace existing facilities, but stalled a little over a year ago due to lack of funds. Since the earthquake, the existing school and church are a pile of rubble, so the project has become a necessity.

The relief and building effort that started in the aftermath of the quake has been remarkable. With support from EMAS Canada, my friends in Bon Repos, with no assistance other than the funds we were able to send, delivered four orderly and efficient mass food distributions between late-January and mid-March. In addition, they built a 400-metre-long, 2.5-metre-high wall in April, securing the new construction site for the school, clinic, church and community health centre, and also erected a temporary school, which has been one of the better functioning schools in the city. Further, they drilled two boreholes, securing safe drinking water for the school and for our clinic in May. Finally, they cleared out the rubble of the old church and reconstructed it within a four-week timeframe in early May, completing the building in time for our health-care team's arrival on May 15. Therefore, we were able to hold our clinic within a very secure building instead of under tents and tarps, and they are now left with a building that can also serve as a hurricane shelter in the coming weeks.

This new building was inspected by a structural engineer from California (who was on our team), and his report was that he had not seen a better constructed building in Bon Repos, assuring us that it would withstand an 8.0 to 9.0 earthquake. In fact, the team of architects and engineers that accompanied me to Haiti told me that they had rarely seen such high-quality construction workmanship in the developing world as what my friends in Bon Repos had accomplished without heavy equipment.

The health-care team of which I was a part treated 568 patients in four days, and left behind not only lots of skills, supplies, and pharmaceuticals, but tremendous hope in the community.

Not that hope wasn't already there.

I think what struck the team members the most on this trip was that, despite the misery and destruction we witnessed, there was not only a resiliency observed in this Haitian community, but a hope that is impossible for us to fully comprehend. Maybe it takes this kind of extreme hardship to truly fully know what hope is.

I was there for two weeks. The first week, I was team leader for a health-care team consisting of three physicians (including myself), one dentist, two nurses, two high school students (including my son Daniel), a university graduate student, and a primary school vice-principal.

The physicians, dentist, nurses and high school students worked in a clinic alongside a Haitian physician and dentist as well as several Haitian nurses and nursing students. The clinic was run as a teaching clinic and saw around 100 to 150 patients a day. Our pharmacy filled about 200 to 300 prescriptions per day.

The most common medical diagnoses seen were gastroesophageal reflux disease, intestinal worms, upper respiratory tract infections, vaginal candidiasis, hypertension, sexually transmitted infections, musculoskeletal pains and headaches, urinary tract infections, ringworm (fungal skin infections), scabies, malaria, and typhoid fever.

The school vice-principal and graduate student worked at the El Shaddai primary school in Bon Repos helping to enhance the curriculum (focusing on hygiene and health topics) with a dozen Haitian teachers working with almost 80 students. The two high school students also helped out in the school, setting up a very lively, well-received soccer program with the new soccer gear they had brought down from Winnipeg. I can safely say that the soccer program was one of the major highlights of my first week in Haiti.

During the second week of my trip, I said "good bye" to the health-care team and welcomed a team of three architects and five engineers who spent a week working intensively with the El Shaddai elders, planning how to develop a large piece of land into a future community centre consisting of a large gathering space (for church and for a hurricane shelter), a new primary school and feeding centre for children, and a primary care/public health clinic.

By the end of the second week, this team had put together preliminary concept drawings and had built a small scale model of what the future development of this community centre will look like. The looks of astonishment and joy in the faces of the Haitians when they first saw the model of their future community centre were priceless.

It will now take a fundraising effort of around $500,000 over the next two to three years to realize the completion of this project, which is a big challenge for me, but also a pretty good bargain considering the skills that the community of El Shaddai are able to put into this project (they are incredibly competent builders) and the outcomes that are expected in terms of benefits to this local community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Learn More

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.

Dr. Pierre Plourde has been working to help Haitian friends recover from the earthquake. His work is 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. In addition to supplying the basic necessities, Plourde says financial contributions will continue to be used to empower the local community.


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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