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WCCCI partner Free The Children provide updates on Haiti

By admin | January 19, 2010

Craig Kielburger – founder of Free the Children provides updates on the organization’s mission to Haiti:

“Marie didn’t appear to be injured when we met her in at the Partners in Health hospital in Cange.

She was wearing a pink dress with blue and purple flowers. She stared wide-eyed at the ceiling.

The doctors explained that while she had no physical wounds from the earthquake, she was gravely ill. They were trying to treat her for a heart condition. They believed it was caused by a secondary infection associated with HIV/AIDS.

Here in Haiti, more than two per cent of the adult population lives with the virus and hundreds more are infected every year. Due to the extreme poverty and lack of medical access at the best of times, mothers-to-child transmission through breastfeeding or at birth is quite common.

Our group is in Haiti dropping off medical supplies to our partner on the ground, Partners in Health. We have worked with them for many years in Africa and Haiti and are currently directing our relief funds to their efforts.

Part of the mandate of Partners in Health is to provide people with live-saving anti-retroviral therapy. Their system of doing so has been replicated in many rural settings and aims to eliminate barriers to continuous care. If someone on ARVs does not take their medication every day, this gives the antibodies time to build resistance rendering the drugs ineffective.

It’s been nearly a week since the earthquake struck. For some, a wait of the length is effectively a death sentence.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti already has the highest infant, under-five and maternal mortality rates in the Western hemisphere. Partners in Health had been working for years to alleviate tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Now, further barriers to clean water, food and medicine are only exacerbating these problems.

This is something we knew all too well. Since coming to Haiti we have been trying to get reports from the street youth centre Erin and her partner Lucas helped found in the coastal town of Jacmel. We had concern one of the boys they work with – a young man who goes by his street name Ti Komik – was not receiving his medicine.

Amazingly, after we highlighted the problem through an entry on twitter, a friend had emailed us within hours. She informed us that she knew of a doctor in the Dominican Republic who could help coordinate a truckload of ARVs for delivery across the empty Dajabón border.

Daily, we’re blown away by the response we are receiving through social networking. But it’s not just online – it’s through Haiti as well.

The Haitians live by a culture of zanmi toay – a culture of helping out friends in need. After years of having little access to electricity, telephones or the internet, we are amazed by how much information still manages to get through.

When Partners in Health ran out of fuel for their generator, word spread across the island, even into the Dominican Republic. There, a man went door-to-door looking for diesel fuel. He then loaded the valuable commodity into his truck and drove it across the border to help in his own private relief effort.

More remarkable are the 10-year-olds who recognize that the doctors are completely exhausted. They constantly ask, “How can I volunteer?” Whether it is moving supplies or relaying information, their help it critical. The fact that each of them does this work in a calm, precise and mature manner is truly something to behold.

Henry, a young doctor normally based in Rwanda, took us through the hospital to where we could drop us supplies. When we asked what he was doing in Haiti, he said he just wanted to help. Under his guidance, the hospital they set up in a local church was running smoothly and orderly despite open wounds, bones protruding from skin and the exhaustion that marked his face.

Calmly, he introduced us to some of the patients.

Like Marie, it wasn’t the wounds from the earthquake that struck each one of us so deeply. It was the pre-existing wounds that really told the story of how much farther this relief effort has to go now that the initial search and rescue is over.

One newborn we found lying in a crib was so malnourished her mother did not want to admit the baby was her child. It wasn’t until the other women around her told us that the baby was hers that she ashamedly revealed the truth.

Next to her, another woman cradled her tiny, premature infant in her arms. The baby was born just one day before the earthquake hit. As we watched her clutch the tiny life, we could not help but think of the thousands of other pregnant women due to give birth.

We’ve heard reports that all of the hospitals in Port-au-Prince were destroyed. Without them, most women will be forced to have their children in the street. Likely, they will lack the proper care and the sterile medical equipment needed to prevent infections like tetanus.

Finally, we came to a woman who had been extracted from a car in Port-au-Prince. Her leg had been completely crushed. Doctors on the scene did a quick job of amputating it at the knee in order to save her life.

Given the circumstances, said Henry, they didn’t do too bad a job. Still, there was a lot of work left to be done. She would require an orthopedic surgeon to properly finish the procedure and the field hospital didn’t have one.

Even if they did, they were running short on blood.

Transfusions themselves aren’t easy. As we’ve seen in Africa, it’s an incredible challenge to obtain a safe blood supply in a region where HIV is prevalent and reliable testing equipment is expensive and hard to come by.

This woman in particular will recover. The problem was where she would go next.

Many patients who had their wounds stitched or limbs placed in casts are ready to be discharged. Under normal situations, they would return home to recover. But today, they are effectively homeless. What they need now is housing and relocation services that will allow them to start a new life.

For the moment though, the exhausted doctors are letting them stay here. It’s not much but many say they are happy just to be receiving treatment. It’s that kind of hope that seems to keep order through the chaos in this small, makeshift hospital.”

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