Paediatrics with Team Broken Earth, Port au Prince, Haiti
Posted on Jun 18 2014 by the Canadian Paediatric Society | Permalink
Leigh Anne Newhook, MD
St. John’s, Nfld.
In 2011, a group of physicians, nurses, and one physiotherapist from Newfoundland travelled to and worked at Bernard Mevs Hospital, located in downtown Port au Prince. The hospital is the adult and paediatric trauma and critical care centre for Port au Prince, and has the only paediatric and neonatal intensive care units in the country.
Since 2011, over 19 Broken Earth teams have travelled and worked at Bernard Mevs Hospital, spear-headed by orthopedic surgeon and team leader Dr. Andrew Furey. In a typical week, they treat over 400 patients and perform 40 to 50 surgeries, including several life-changing cleft lip and palate repairs. What started in Newfoundland has spread across Canada, with teams from Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa, British Columbia and Northwest Territories.
My first trip to Port au Prince was in 2012, and I have had five week-long trips as a paediatrician with Team Broken Earth. Prevalent conditions in the paediatric population include injuries, TB, HIV/AIDS, meningitis, sepsis, pneumonia, hydrocephalus, malnutrition and illness related to contaminated water. Less than 50% of children are vaccinated. Haiti is considered the poorest country in the western world, and that was before the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, which killed more than 225,000 people and left almost 2 million homeless.
Recent positive changes at Bernard Mevs include a new paediatric unit with new cribs and incubators, a sink with running water, new ventilator equipment, and the hiring of two full-time local paediatricians. The OR has been modernized and the level of skill and organization of the local Haitian staff in all departments has increased tremendously. In September 2013, the University of Haiti started a new paediatric residency program.
I have personally gained so much experience working in Haiti. All of my trips have been with my friend and colleague, Dr. Natalie Bridger, a paediatric infectious disease specialist in St. John’s. We generally work side-by-side, doing our best to provide care. Local translators help us communicate with the local staff and patients in a very efficient manner. The spirit, determination and warmth of the local Haitian staff, patients and families keep me coming back. Although I miss my own family immensely when I travel to Haiti, each trip changes me and my perspective, and helps me to be a better paediatrician and person.
I would encourage anyone interested in working in Haiti to check out Team Broken Earth and consider sharing your skills and time. The needs of Haiti are immense, but the Haitian people are filled with hope, courage, and resilience. Slowly but surely, improvements are happening.
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