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On my first day of Port-au-Prince, we drove through what my colleagues told me was a typical Haitian bustle. Crowds surrounded open-air stalls, children made their way to school and cars navigated through heavy traffic.
After taking a tour of the AmeriCares Haiti office and warehouse, where I saw our warehouse full of supplies for emergency kits, among many other products, we went on a monitoring visit to the cholera treatment center at St. Luke’s Family Hospital. There, we saw AmeriCares products in use, directly helping patients suffering from this deadly diarrheal disease. AmeriCares lactated ringers were restoring hydration to the patients, while instant cholera tests helped determine the appropriate treatment for people entering the center. The doctors shared some unnerving information: patient intake had nearly doubled between October and November. With its spikes and ebbs, the fight against cholera is as crucial as ever. Afterwards, we visited beneficiaries of AmeriCares Quality and Access program, giving impoverished patients access to top quality specialty medical procedures they would not normally be able to afford.
At the end of my first day in Haiti, I was glad to have seen two very different types of programs that our Haiti office supports: one that focuses on stemming the tide of immediate emergency situations, and one that helps treat long-term calamities such as chronic disease.
On day two, I woke up early to visit the Rezo Koze La Sante Clinic in rural Fond Verrettes. As we got further out of Port-au-Prince, the crowds thinned, and hectic streets became countryside and agricultural plots. Hurricane Sandy had recently wreaked havoc in these areas. A former bridge had been washed away and a tent community that had sprung up in the wake of the storm covered an open field. According to my colleagues, these agricultural areas had the most difficulty accessing health care.
The Rezo Koze La Sante clinic is an unlikely site for revolutionizing the immunization status of this hillside community: small and unassuming, with its open-air porch and friendly green trim, it is nonetheless protecting thousands of people from catastrophic illness. Mothers and babies lined the porch of the clinic, waiting patiently to receive the vaccinations that Rezo Koze staff had often traveled into their communities to assure them were necessary.
Finally, we drove to see a cholera education program in action. In Cazeau, Haiti, about a third of this community of 32,000 have already been reached by traveling educators spreading the word clean water, proper sanitation and hand washing. Children gathered in the playground at their school to hear the community health worker, loudly chiming in to repeat the rules they learned in unison. Afterwards, students received water purification materials. This health education is crucial to preventing the waves of cholera that can cripple entire towns.
Still, three years after the earthquake, Haiti’s health infrastructure requires profound rebuilding — and strengthening so that it comes back better than before. I was so glad to get the chance to see these health programs firsthand, a great reminder of the strong strides that have been made towards quality care and the needs that still exist.