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Voices from the Field: Dr. Bia in Haiti

  • March 16, 2010

AmeriCares Medical Director Dr. Frank Bia recently returned from Haiti where he was assessing the health needs of earthquake survivors. To get a firsthand glimpse into the needs of the health care providers treating the injured, Dr. Bia spent a day treating patients at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

When I arrived at the General Hospital more than a month after the earthquake there were hundreds of people outside waiting in line for medical care in scorching, 90-degree heat. These were not the survivors with broken bones and gaping wounds we had seen on our television screens in the first few weeks after the disaster. Those patients had already come and gone or been admitted to the hospital. The people waiting in line were ordinary Haitians, hoping some of the medical professionals that have come from all over the world to assist the relief efforts would treat their infections, respiratory problems and chronic health conditions – many that have been neglected for far too long.

There were also earthquake survivors who had received initial treatment, but did not receive follow up care like Sophie, a beautiful 10-year-old girl wearing a pretty white dress and a big smile. The girl had stitches to close a gash on her forehead and a tube inserted to prevent an infection in the early days after the earthquake. Both should have been removed about a month earlier. Perhaps no one had explained to her teenage brother that by leaving them in she was at risk of a very serious infection, close to her eye – not to mention a much more painful procedure – as her skin was beginning to heal over the wound. With the help of a pediatric surgeon we gently removed the tube and stitches, then provided her with a 10-day course of antibiotics and pain relievers donated by AmeriCares, as well as a topical antibiotic to prevent infection and unsightly scarring.  

Some of the best medical professionals from all over the world are participating in the relief efforts, but no matter how many medical volunteers there are, without the tools they need, they can’t save patients. That’s why AmeriCares is sending continuous deliveries of medical aid, including the most urgent and frequently needed medicines and supplies. During my visit I met with doctors at three hospitals AmeriCares is supplying to ensure we send them only the most needed products. That’s what it’s all about – getting the right stuff to the right place, at the right time.

With millions of malnourished earthquake survivors still living in crowded refugee camps, the risk of contracting infectious diseases is great – so great that there’s almost an insatiable demand for antibiotics right now. When you couple that with the harsh reality that almost all of the most commonly used antibiotics are in short supply in Haiti even in the best of times, it’s downright frightening. Thankfully, AmeriCares has made a long-term commitment to help rebuild Haiti’s health care system.  AmeriCares $50 million commitment includes ongoing shipments of critically needed antibiotics and medical supplies. The Haitian people are resilient, and with our continued support they can weather this crisis just as they have done with disasters time and again. 

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