Three and a half years after the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region, International Medical Corps continues its work to support health system strengthening in Haiti.
With International Medical Corps, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) is piloting the “Agents de Santé Polyvalent,” or Multi-Purpose Health Worker, Program. This program replaces the previous mix of community-health worker initiatives from the government and various NGOs, putting in place a standardized education system supported by MSPP.
The current pilot program is located Les Cayes, a small city in the South Department. The program provides an intense and rigorous education program for the 29 participants from the region over the course of two years.
The first thirteen weeks of the program consist of lectures and presentations covering mathematics, physics, chemistry, communication, precautions, infection control, personal hygiene, community hygiene, environmental health, ethics and conduct, and community diagnosis. Following the lecture component, students then go to the field to practice what they have learned under supervision of MSPP staff.
As a part of this field visit, students must assess the community to determine what health issues exist. Following this assessment, they return to the community to provide information on the issues they encountered, including education on hygiene promotion and environmental hygiene.
International Medical Corps is proud to support MSPP and the future “Agents de Santé Polyvalent.” The Haitian government aims to eventually roll this program out countrywide, providing one health officer for every 1,000 Haitian people.
“It’s like your heart is about to explode. Even now, three years later, you still feel the pain.”
In 2010, Dr. Virginia Chevalier was a young medical resident doing her hospital rounds in southern Haiti when, around 5pm on January 12, the earth started shaking. She remembers everything sliding beneath her feet and feeling like there was nothing to support her. She still feels the shaking, even today.
Virginia knew from an early age that she would be a doctor; she says it was written in the stars. Raised in Port-au-Prince, the second child of four, Virginia “saw everything”—Haiti’s extreme poverty, lack of health care and stark inequalities. It was “like hell,” so Virginia decided to do something to help. She earned her medical degree in Port-au-Prince and went south for her residency. Then the earthquake hit.
Within about six hours, the hospital where Virginia worked started receiving patients “without hands and legs; with broken eyes.” She still had two hands but wished she had more to carry everyone at the same time as they called out to her, “I need this. I am dying. Miss, please, nurse...” All the while, she couldn’t stop thinking about her family in Port-au-Prince. But there was no way to get in touch.
Words fail to describe what Virginia felt when she returned to the capital three days later, so she keeps repeating “very, very stressful.” Even being a doctor couldn’t prepare her for what she saw. Virginia walked for an hour on broken streets that “smelled dead” to reach her family home. At last, she found her parents, alive but too afraid to go inside their house. It was then that Virginia finally broke down and wept. Relief mixed with grief.
Life became entirely about staying alive. With no food, no water, no money, “You just try to survive.” Virginia willed herself to focus on the patients who came to her begging for help, but her mind was “without energy.” After two weeks, Virginia went back to work in the south. She and the other hospital staff treated patients outside under the hot sun as aftershocks went on for week. They were always on high alert; always ready to run. Everything felt like shaking—“You just keep wondering when something will happen again.”
Then life goes on, or it has to. But everyone in Haiti who experienced the earthquake that day, Virginia insists, still has a psychological impact. Even the survivors are “lost mentally because people cannot support the shock.” They think, “Why am I still alive? Why me? When I lost my family and my country is in ruins?” So, says Virginia, “You have to fight—with everything you have. Otherwise, you will lose your mind.”
When she finished her residency, Virginia tried to return to Port-au-Prince to be with her family. She applied to countless jobs in the city to no avail. Finally, one day, she had a talk with God: “Ok I’m ready to go where you want me to go.” She expanded her job search to outside Port-au-Prince and immediately received calls from several different non-governmental organizations, including International Medical Corps. After meeting with us, Virginia cancelled her other interviews. It just felt right.
According to Virginia, International Medical Corps saw more in her than she saw in herself. After one month, she became the supervisor of one of our sites, then another, and finally her work took her back to Port-au-Prince. Step by step, she became a manager: “I grew up with International Medical Corps. I learned so much.” Today, she does more capacity-building than clinical work, and although she sometimes misses contact with patients, she knows she’s “helping lay the groundwork for more.”
For instance, says Virginia, “If you work in a clinic, you may deliver a beautiful baby girl. But I get to fight for something else: to have more health facilities where women can give birth safely and hygienically; more trained OBGYNs; places where a mother can take her child if it has disabilities.”
Virginia also likes that “International Medical Corps does not come and try to decide what you need for you. They put national staff in the middle of the process and ask ‘What do you need? ‘How can we help the situation?’” She is proud to represent International Medical Corps at meeting with agencies like the United Nations and World Health Organization, but says her presence is “unusual” because “I’m female and a Haitian national.”
It shouldn’t be. Ultimately, the expertise of an ex-pat will come and go, but it’s Haitians who will stay. Says Virginia, “We will always be part of our country. It’s our country. And we have something to say.”
Today, Virginia believes that it was all “not for nothing.” She thinks that Haiti was “slipping” before the earthquake and then was “shaken to move forward”—to better understand “the lack” that existed and how to rebuild in a more equal and sustainable way. In the end, says Virginia:
“I think the earthquake brought something to us. We started to realize that the way we used to live was not correct, and that we have to integrate into the world. If every Haitian can think like this, I think that everything that happened to us will serve to progress us; to bring something different for the next generation. There is a lesson. We have to push to enter into life; to not be separate.”
And so, Virginia — and Haiti — bravely pushes on.
This month marked three years since Haiti’s 2010 earthquake—a day none of us will ever forget. It also marks International Medical Corps’ third year in Haiti, where we have been working uninterrupted, side by side with Haitians, since just 22 hours after the earthquake hit.
With your support, International Medical Corps has accomplished an enormous amount over the past three years. During the initial emergency response, we deployed more than 400 medical volunteers to provide critical care for hundreds of thousands of Haitians. Subsequently, we established a network of primary health care clinics in and around earthquake-affected areas and launched programs in mental health, nutrition, child protection, early childhood development, water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction, emergency medicine development, and cholera prevention and response.
International Medical Corps was one of the first responders to Haiti’s cholera outbreak in October 2010, rolling out a network of 10 cholera treatment centers that provided lifesaving cholera care for more than 33,215 cholera patients. We also ran an emergency medicine development program at Port-au-Prince's General Hospital that trained more than 300 Haitian physicians and nurses in nearly every component of emergency care delivery.
In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked further havoc on the fragile island nation, killing at least 54, leaving over 200,000 homeless, and causing extensive flooding and damage. Diarrheal disease, cholera and food insecurity have spiked as a result of Sandy. International Medical Corps responded by adding two additional mobile medical units (MMUs) in one of the hardest hit areas, Les Cayes, to provide cholera screenings, primary health screenings, health care services and hygiene promotion.
All this—three years of support for Haiti’s recovery—was made possible by you.
Today, we continue to help rebuild Haiti’s broken health infrastructure through robust training programs for local health professionals and technical assistance to the Ministry of Health, while providing cholera treatment and prevention services through MMUs in hard-to-reach remote communities in Southern Haiti. We are also working to rehabilitate the damaged Aquin District water supply system, restoring water for 94,000 vulnerable Haitians.
So thank you for helping Haiti rebuild: one day at a time for three years running and still going strong.
We’re writing to update you on Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which has caused at least 51 deaths across the island nation so far. Late last week, the powerful storm ravaged Haiti, where 370,000 people still live in flimsy shelter and tent camps following the devastating 2010 earthquake. Eighty-four displacement camps were damaged, as were countless homes, businesses, roads and bridges.
New outbreaks of cholera have been reported in Haiti, with more expected in the coming days. Extensive damage to agriculture, livestock and fisheries across the country has raised serious concerns about food insecurity and malnutrition—which will hit children under 2 years old and pregnant women hardest. Other critical needs—such as health, shelter and supplies—will persist for some time.
International Medical Corps has been working with local government agencies on the ground to coordinate the emergency response. We are adding additional mobile medical units (MMUs) in the most affected areas in the south and west, and expanding the coverage of our existing MMUs to respond to both primary health care needs and cholera outbreaks. We are also mobilizing to address the urgent needs of approximately 10,000 internally displaced persons staying in temporary shelters.
We will continue to update you on the situation in Haiti as well as our emergency response there.
Further, as the hurricane hits the U.S., we hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.
With many thanks for your support.
International Medical Corps has operated in Haiti since 2010 when our teams were on the ground treating patients within 22 hours of the earthquake. Following a comprehensive emergency response, we implemented long-term programs in Haiti including cholera treatment, primary health care, water and sanitation, and disaster preparedness. Today we are focused on training local health workers to help rebuild Haiti’s health infrastructure.
Hurricane Sandy has been sweeping through the Caribbean causing extensive damage. We’re writing to let you know that International Medical Corps is mobilizing to respond in Haiti.
Twenty one deaths have been reported so far and Haitian President Michel Martelly has declared a state of emergency. International Medical Corps’ Haiti teams are collaborating with local government and United Nations agencies to coordinate the emergency response. We're prepositioning emergency kits, fuel and flashlights at all of our sites. In addition, we have Mobile Medical Units on standby to assist in reaching affected communities.
Thousands of people still live in tent camps following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and heavy flooding from the hurricane has only exacerbated their vulnerability. Roads are badly damaged, bridges have been swept away, and the main hospital in Les Cayes remains flooded. Heavy rains continue and the Gray River, located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, has overflowed—taking away homes and businesses. The main road linking Haiti to the Dominican Republic is also badly damaged, making it nearly impossible for vehicles to cross the border.
As crops throughout the country have been severely damaged, there are serious concerns about food insecurity, adding to the already precarious nutrition status of the population—particularly for children under 2 years old.
As a stakeholder in International Medical Corps’ Haiti relief efforts, we know that you are deeply concerned about the health, safety and wellbeing of Haitians. We will continue to update you as the situation progresses.
Many thanks for your continual support.
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Resource Development Officer