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Health focus in Haiti


Ricky Jordan, in Haiti

Health focus in Haiti

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The maternity facility at Croix des Bouquets was not impressive.Though funded and administered by efforts of the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA) and Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the green building did not seem an ideal alternative to an opportunity offered by a British branch of Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to construct a hospital in Port-au-Prince earlier this year.
Shortly after the January 12 earthquake that ravaged Haiti’s capital, Minister of Public Health and Population, Dr Alex Larsen, declined the offer because, as he told journalists at Wednesday’s launch of the UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report 2010, certain non-governmental organisations behave as if Haiti is a colonised island “where they go where they want and do as they like”.
Therefore since, according to Larsen, it was not feasible to build a hospital in the area targeted by MSF, that was the end of the discussion.However, when UNFPA took journalists from the Caribbean and Latin America on a tour of the Ministry of Public Health and Population Centre for gynaecology and pre-natal care in Croix des Bouquets, Port-au-Prince earlier this week, this state-run facility – though clean on the inside – was hardly suitable for any substantial health care.
Its exterior was covered with the ever-present dust from remaining mounds of rubble that dot the capital; and at the entrance was an obviously sick elderly lady, lying on a bench and spitting periodically into a plastic cup.The facility’s obstetrics gynaecologist Dr Flaubert Aurelius and his co-ordinating midwife, Rodeny Gabriel, guided us through the entrance downstairs where three pregnant women waited, lying on the floor – one loudly moaning with each passing contraction.Upstairs, in what Gabriel described as an expanded building funded by UNFPA and PAHO contributions, we could still hear the young woman’s cries as we were shown the operating room, two offices and the lone maternity ward comprising five beds.
Whether a larger hospital, as offered by MSF, would have accommodated more women is uncertain; for in Haiti deliveries are traditionally done at home – even if home since the earthquake is a makeshift “tent” of tarpaulin or plastic held up by pieces of wood and old sheet metal.But efforts have intensified in recent months to give Haitian women more professional pre-natal care, said UNFPA project manager Cheryl Martin.“This is one of the ways that the ministry together with the PAHO is getting more women into the medical facilities; so they can deliver the babies with trained professionals. PAHO then reimburses the facility for the costs of deliveries and any sort of emergency care that may be needed,” she explained.
Health minister Larsen described his stance as a call for respect from the NGOs, however, it is arguable that – despite their apparent condescending behaviour towards “the natives” – Medecins Sans Frontières’ hospital would have provided at least 20 beds, British-trained medical personnel, and waiting area facilities that might have been a little better than the cold concrete floor at Croix-de-Bouquets.

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