I was privileged to be asked to join a workgroup to Haiti in November through Canadian Friends of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer - Haiti (HAS). My impressions of Haiti, were of a countryside of unspoiled striking natural beauty. Once outside of the city areas one is struck by the lack of hydro poles, multi-lane highways and other “aids-to-civilization” to mar the vista of the rugged hillsides. The down side to this is that Haiti is not an easy country to move around in and it keeps its people living in isolated communities. Deschapelle, where Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) is situated, is one such community.
The Hôpital has brought employment to the region and a huge infra-structure of Public Health initiatives. On reading a biography and the recent blog I know that patients are not only treated at the hospital but it has the resources to track trends for a disease or illness. HAS has a team that collects and correlates data so that they can more easily find the source of outbreaks; this is now done with the help of computerization as all the patients are registered on their admission. Having this new information can mean visiting remote areas, where the team observes the practises of the people to help find likely cause of outbreaks and illness. Through such efforts HAS, with the help of donations, can offer practical solutions to help reduce disease and sickness.
My visit coincided with the cholera outbreak and I personally helped many patients with IV hydration therapy. I was amazed at the way family members, who accompanied the patients, stayed with them and cared for them. They helped them to take a shower, go to the toilet, change linen on their cot and do the laundry. One might think it would be very unpleasant to work in a makeshift cholera clinic but I have worked on few a GI units that had far more unpleasant odours than I ever experienced here. At times the ward could have up to 40-50 people lying side-by-side on cots, with barely room to walk between patients and family members. There were often 3 patients sharing one IV pole. Family members stayed with patients 24/7, often sleeping on a chair (if they were lucky) or on the stone slab benches in the patient registration area. I knew of one particular man who had carried his mother a long distance and when in my bad French I asked him if the patient was his mother, his eyes lit up with pride. While I started and monitored her IV therapy he was the one who took care of her basic needs. I am pleased to report she did well and survived her brush with cholera.
Below is a photo of the temporary Adult Cholera unit at HAS. We were asked to respect patient privacy so it is a distance-shot of the area. It had over 40-50 patients and family members, most of whom where sheltered under the overhang and the tree in the courtyard. It was a different environment compared to Canadian standards but it was effective and works.
Submitted by Rosemary Horsewood, RN a member of the November 2010 work team to HAS