Partners In Health Haiti Earthquake Recovery

by Partners In Health (PIH)
Photo credit: Michelle Morse/PIH
Photo credit: Michelle Morse/PIH

Young Haitian Doctors Begin Medical Residencies at University Hospital

On April 28, Dr. Paul Farmer stood before a microphone in a large conference room in Haiti's University Hospital.

Several days before, bomb blasts at the marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, had killed three people, but not a single person who made it to a hospital died. In that grim emergency, teaching hospitals made a difference, Farmer told the crowd.

“I love working at a great Boston teaching hospital, Brigham and Women’s. I love being able to train the next generation of physicians and nurses. And I want Haiti to have something like it, too,” Farmer said.

This month, University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti, took a significant step toward becoming the teaching hospital envisioned after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which devastated the country’s already-fragile medical infrastructure. On Oct. 1, the hospital’s first medical residents—all young Haitian doctors—began hands-on training in pediatrics, general surgery, and internal medicine.

The application process was intensive and merit-based: 238 people applied and took an entrance exam. Of those, 45 were interviewed, and 14 were selected. Class members hail from all over Haiti. Some studied at Haiti’s state medical school or private schools in Port-au-Prince; others went to the Dominican Republic. Some just graduated from medical school and completed their social service year; others have been practicing for a few years. By coincidence, the class is evenly split between men and women.

Dr. Jean-Louis Willy Fils, 29, from the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember. He describes surgery as his “true vocation,” so to be selected for a University Hospital residency was more than he hoped for.

“One year ago, I couldn't have even imagined learning surgery in a hospital with an international standard of quality, for the good reason that such a hospital didn't exist in the country yet,” Fils said. “That's the proof that great things can be done in Haiti.”

Over the next several years, these 14 doctors will receive instruction from Haitian and foreign physicians—some of whom are faculty at the same teaching hospital where Farmer trained and now teaches. The curriculum for their training was developed through special working groups and designed to follow the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education International’s (ACGME-I) standards.

After completing orientation this month, residents will begin caring for patients as well as rotating in departments such as emergency medicine, TB/HIV clinic, and oncology. Each day, they will spend an hour in special education sessions for residents, and once or twice per week they will be on call throughout the night. They will also conduct research to improve the quality of care. The ACGME-I guidelines require they work no more than 80 hours a week, but they’ll probably come close.

"The residency program at University Hospital represents the most serious attempt, to my knowledge and during my lifetime, to systematically create a critical mass of Haitian physician specialists that will have the opportunity to be fully useful to all Haitians," said Dr. Pierre Paul, PIH senior advisor. He added that he and his physician colleagues have traditionally questioned the poor outcomes of Haiti's health sector, but now feel questioned themselves about their responsibility to improve health care in Haiti. "University Hospital and its new residency program stand as formidable evidence of the efforts that young Haitian health professionals are making to restore, in a sustainable way, hope and dignity in the future of health in Haiti."

As new classes of residents begin each fall, the number of physician trainees will double and triple. And the programs will expand to include other health professionals, such as nurse anesthetists and other nurse specialists, as well as more medical specialties—such as emergency medicine—which would be the first such training program in the country.

In addition to hands-on training, the curriculum includes lessons on social medicine and the root causes of disease, such as poverty, which have been part of PIH’s work since its early days in Haiti. The programs are designed to train and retain a new generation of doctors to the poor who work outside of Port-au-Prince, the traditional mecca for medical training.

“We envision a workforce of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who are driven by medical excellence and committed to high-quality care for all Haitians,” said Michelle Morse, PIH deputy chief medical officer for Haiti. “The start of these residencies brings Haiti one step closer to this vision.”

Too little training, too few doctors

The American Medical Association describes the training for doctors in the United States as “lengthy.”

Four years of college. Four years at medical school. Up to seven years in a residency program and three years in a fellowship for specialists, who make up 95 percent of American doctors.

Add it up, and many doctors have had more than a decade of medical training. Much of it takes place through hands-on coaching from senior physicians in teaching hospitals with all the latest diagnostics and treatments.

In Haiti, one reason for needless sickness and death is the lack of trained professionals to provide health care. There are only 25 physicians per 100,000 Haitians. The United States has more than tenfold that number: 280 doctors for every 100,000 Americans.

In Haiti, half of doctors are generalists who have completed medical school and a social service year but no specialty training. Each year, about 450 graduating doctors compete for only about 150 residency positions.

Those residencies allow Haitian doctors to become specialists in fields such as internal medicine and pediatrics, but even those additional years of training are wanting. Most residencies are based in hospitals that are ill-equipped and under-staffed, with limited supervision by experienced doctors. Attending physicians are underpaid, leading many to spend their time in private practice, instead of teaching physician trainees.

PIH conducted a survey of Haitian residency programs to better understand the country's medical education needs. The survey found that 55 percent of residents don’t have Internet access at the hospitals where they work, and 80 percent of the programs do not have an exit exam for residents.

“These residencies are operating in hospitals that are severely short on resources, from staff to equipment,” Morse said. “University Hospital has electronic medical records, an emergency department, a CT scanner—it allows us to have a whole new level of quality care and training at a hospital with the appropriate resources.”

Double brain drain

The lack of opportunities leads many young Haitian doctors to seek training and employment in other countries, causing a brain drain in the health workforce. A staggering 80 percent of all physicians trained in Haiti leave within five years of graduation to practice abroad. Of the doctors who stay in Haiti, most practice in Port-au-Prince, which makes it difficult for rural people to access care. The medical education programs at University Hospital aim to slow or even reverse that double brain drain—from rural to Port-au-Prince or abroad—by encouraging talented young doctors to train in Haiti and stay there to practice medicine.

Dr. Ketly Altenor, 27, hopes to return to St. Marc, Haiti, to practice medicine. Growing up there, Altenor lost her father at 12 years old, and her mother supported the family as a street vendor. Despite her family’s poverty, Altenor excelled in school and earned a competitive spot at the state medical school. She graduated with the support of a scholarship from the nonprofit Haitian Education and Leadership Program, which provided housing, a stipend, and mentorship. She was accepted into the pediatrics residency at University Hospital after graduating from medical school.

“After my training I intend to return to work in my hometown, where there aren’t enough pediatricians,” Altenor said. “I will try to extend pediatric care to remote areas of the Artibonite region. I want to work in social medicine and really help people.”

Though University Hospital’s medical residencies are just starting, other training activities have occurred since the hospital opened. Since Farmer delivered his talk, or “grand rounds,” to inaugurate medical education at University Hospital, staff have participated in daily continuing education sessions to improve care, from training on using ultrasound to sessions to help faculty become better teachers.

As Farmer said, “University Hospital was built to be a teaching hospital because the hypothesis, here, is that the quality of medical care will be improved whenever training and research—the ‘feedback loops’ that allow us to learn—occur in tandem with compassionate care.”

Rebecca E. Rollins/Partners In Health
Rebecca E. Rollins/Partners In Health

University Hospital Shows that Aid Done Right in Haiti Improves Lives

This essay from PIH's Stephanie Garry originally apperared in the Tampa Bay Times. 

The gleaming white hospital appears out of nowhere in the bustle of this impoverished city in the Central Plateau of Haiti.

It seems even more out of place when you consider what's inside: 300 beds — more than All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Six operating rooms. A neonatal intensive care unit. A CT scanner, the only one available to the public in Haiti. Most important, patients. More than 10,000 have seen clinicians since the hospital opened this spring.

It's one of the few visible signs of progress since the 2010 earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince.

More than half of American households donated after the earthquake to help a poor country with bad luck. But for the most part, the grand plans of building back better have not materialized. The 1.5 million people living in tents after the earthquake are fewer, but many were forcibly evicted. A garment factory and a luxury hotel, both underwritten by aid, opened with fanfare. These milestones hardly amount to a resounding victory for the people of Haiti.

Against this disappointing effort, University Hospital stands out as a testament to how much can be accomplished in Haiti. It can teach us how to achieve rebuilding and development with effective aid that endures, and better deliver on the generosity of the American people.

The popular narrative would tell you the recovery fell short because Haiti is difficult, unstable, dangerous and corrupt. Just a few days after the quake, New York Times columnist David Brooks blamed Haiti's trouble on "progress-resistant cultural influences." It's a facile explanation of a complex place, but a lot of people found it convincing.

My experience has led me to believe something else. I lived in Port-au-Prince for nine months and now work in Boston at Partners In Health, the global health nonprofit that built L'hopital Universitaire de Mirebalais under the guidance of Brooksville native Dr. Paul Farmer. In my view, the problem lay not with the Haitians but the aid industry that came to their rescue.

The earthquake recovery was largely composed of nonprofit organizations that are more eager to please donors than the people they purport to serve. Too often, they pay lip service to working with communities while largely ignoring them in designing their programs. Many of the so-called experts on alleviating poverty had little experience in Haiti and no plans to stay long term.

I saw this firsthand during my time working for Fonkoze, an exceptional Haitian microfinance bank serving the rural poor. I attended an aid organization's workshop to create a website to help poor, rural people improve their lives with information — people who are mostly illiterate and lack access to electricity, computers and the Internet. I heard an American aid worker complaining that the luxury housing provided by her nonprofit employer didn't have enough style.

It seemed like so much money went to Haiti after the earthquake, but less than 1 percent of the $2.4 billion in immediate earthquake relief went directly to the government of Haiti.

In the longer-term recovery effort, the U.S. development agency USAID spent $1.15 billion, more than half going to American firms in the D.C. area and less than 1 percent to Haitian firms and nonprofits, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Haitians weren't in charge of the projects, but they shoulder the blame for failures. Their country is characterized as a black hole for aid.

If national systems are weak, diverting money and projects away from the government only worsens the problem. It isn't easy to work with a government that is chronically short of resources, but it's the only way to strengthen the public sector to ensure the rights of its citizens.

There are many problems with the way aid works, but at the root of it is how we view the poor and disadvantaged, and more broadly, any group of people we seek to serve.

Beneath the complexity of actors and projects, the core of the problem is a misinterpretation of poverty.

As well intentioned as they can be, both aid and charity take the subtle view that there is something inherently wrong with the people being served. Otherwise, the argument goes, why would they need our help?

In reality, disadvantaged people are systematically deprived of the basic rights that would enable them to rise out of poverty — food, clean water, decent sanitation, housing, jobs, health care and education. The ambitions of aid are often too small, focusing on modest, short-term interventions instead of the long, painstaking work of building systems to ensure rights, in partnership with the government and local institutions.

In Haiti, this denial of rights is not innocent, but the result of centuries of international interference and oppression. A couple of recent examples: Just a decade ago, on claims that Haiti's government was interfering with the elections of eight senators, the United States blocked international loans to improve water and sanitation systems. In 2010, less than a year after the earthquake, a U.N. peacekeeping force inadvertently brought an epidemic of cholera to Haiti by dumping its sewage in a major river system. Cholera has since killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than one in 20 Haitians.

Instead of fixating on personal failings of the people of Haiti, we should work with them to build systems that ensure access to education, health care and food. The rights-based approach guides us to imagine doing more than offering castoff goods and services — the XXL T-shirts or the expired medicines or the spring break service trips. Pragmatically, a human rights approach works better because it confronts difficult, interconnected problems with significant solutions, not small, cheap interventions like chlorine for purifying drinking water or transitional shelters that, by themselves, offer little hope of lasting change.

Partners In Health, along with its sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, works to improve the quality of care in the public health system, collaborating with Haitian communities and the government to train health care workers, develop new services and improve rundown facilities, including building top-quality infrastructure.

In the case of University Hospital, the Haitian government identified the need for a national teaching hospital after the earthquake, and Partners In Health/Zamni Lasante worked alongside the Haitian Ministry of Health to design and construct the $17 million facility, with the help of many in-kind donations. Through a public-private partnership, the government and Partners In Health/Zamni Lasante will contribute to operating costs, and management of the hospital will gradually transition to the government over the next 10 years.

Partners In Health builds open-ended partnerships that don't end when the earthquake donations dry up, offering a greater chance at slow, lasting progress on entrenched problems of poverty and inequality. We call this "accompaniment," to convey a shared journey.

Developing partnerships based on empathy and pragmatic solidarity — not pity or even sympathy — is the essential first step in serving people in need.

Early on May 23, nurses and doctors dressed in blue scrubs and prepared for University Hospital's first surgical case. The instruments were sterilized, positive air pressure minimized the risk of infection, and Haitian nurses provided anesthesia. Dozens of partners — corporations, generous donors of time and money, medical professionals, and Mirebalais housekeepers — had worked together to make this day a reality. It wouldn't have been possible without years of work to strengthen the health system in the Central Plateau, so that patients could be connected to care from their homes to the hospital.

The patient was a 60-year-old Haitian woman and mother of four, diagnosed with breast cancer by a Haitian doctor. A Haitian surgeon from Mirebalais and his American counterpart worked side by side in a fully equipped operating room to perform the mastectomy. As with all work at University Hospital, procedures like this serve two purposes — first, and most important, to heal the patient with a standard of care that compares to a top-quality teaching hospital anywhere else in the world, and second, to train Haitian medical professionals to provide that kind of care. With this operation, the Haitian woman has received new hope and a greater chance of living longer with a better quality of life.

In the United States, there would be no question that a woman with breast cancer receives care — including a mastectomy — to save her life, and health facilities provide it routinely. Yet development experts debate whether this care is worth the cost in low-income countries. Should we spend the money on and invest the time in systems, with the necessary infrastructure, equipment, supply chains and drugs, to treat complex cases like cancer?

The patients in need of care and their doctors always say yes. Our role is to support them.

University Hospital was built in less than three years, long enough for the majority of earthquake responders to come and go. It will remain, serving the people of Haiti long into the future, as a testament to how much can be accomplished when you view the people you seek to help as equal partners.

Stephanie Garry is a former Tampa Bay Times staff writer who served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, she worked for Fonkoze in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, before joining the Partners In Health staff in Boston. Views are her own.

Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital Turns on the Lights—Sustainably

Since the earthquake, Partners In Health (PIH) has focused on rebuilding the damaged healthcare and health education systems in Haiti in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health. Constructing and opening a new national teaching hospital, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM), was one huge step towards achieving this goal, and PIH is proud to share how this vision is now a sustainable reality. 

It’s among the most basic, most critical, and most overlooked resources needed to run a hospital: electricity. But in Haiti’s Central Plateau, the flow of electricity is intermittent at best. Consider that in Mirebalais, located 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince, the power goes out for an average of three hours each day. This poses an enormous challenge to running any hospital: surgeries are jeopardized, neonatal ventilators stall, the cold chain is interrupted, and countless everyday tasks get derailed. As Partners In Health co-founder Paul Farmer noted at a recent lecture at the Harvard School of Public Health, “It’s not great if you’re a surgeon and you have to think about getting the generator going.”

To ensure patients and staff at HUM weren’t left in the dark when the 300-bed hospital opened in March, PIH and its partners looked toward the sun. Stretched across the roof of the new 200,000-square-foot hospital is a vast and meticulously arranged array of 1,800 solar panels.

On a bright day, these panels are expected to produce more energy than the hospital will consume. Before the hospital even opened, the system churned out 139 megawatt hours of electricity, enough to charge 22 million smartphones and offset 72 tons of coal. Perhaps most important is that the excess electricity will be fed back into Haiti’s national grid, giving a much-needed boost to the country’s woefully inadequate energy infrastructure.

 “At each step of the way, we were attempting things that had never before been done in Haiti,” said Jim Ansara, volunteer HUM director of design and construction and a longtime PIH supporter. In a country ravaged by deforestation, the benefit to the environment cannot be overstated: HUM’s solar array has already offset more than 140,000 pounds of carbon emissions. Annually, the system is expected to save 210 metric tons of carbon emissions.

The system also carries a financial benefit. In Haiti, electricity is six times as expensive as in New England: the price per kilowatt hour is 35 cents, compared with 5.5 cents in New England. Using solar energy is expected to slash $379,000 from HUM’s projected annual operating costs. It’s also estimated that, overall, the hospital will create 800 jobs for Haitians. When fully operational, HUM is expected to be the largest solar-powered hospital in the world that produces more than 100 percent of its energy during peak daylight hours.

On December 4, 2012, PBS NewsHour featured a story on Partners In Health's ongoing earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti.  Below, please find a transcript of the program as well as a link to the video. 

Long After Earthquake, Haiti Still Feels Devastating Effects of Cholera Epidemic

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti may still loom large in Americans' memory, but, in Haiti itself, that was at least three disasters ago, before Hurricanes Tomas last year, Isaac in August, and recently Sandy.

Each storm brought a grim reminder of yet one more ever-present disaster: the deadly cholera epidemic that started 10 months after the quake.

At the cholera ward of Saint Luc's Hospital just outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, Dr. Jackinson Davilmar says since Hurricane Sandy admissions have doubled from 20 to 40 patients each day.

DR. JACKINSON DAVILMAR, Saint Luc Medical Center (through translator): Most of the new cases are coming from further up the hill in places like Petionville where we had not seen them before. I'm not positive, but perhaps the wells there have been contaminated.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts believe cholera was brought here by U.N. peacekeepers at the time, a battalion from Nepal. Untreated sewage from this base flowed into a tributary of the ArtiboniteRiver, the major source of water for both washing and drinking.

Cholera is spread by fecal-oral contact. Two years on, 200,000 patients have been sickened, 7,500 have died from the extreme diarrhea and fluid loss. Each flood brings more contaminated water, more cases.

The epidemic prompted massive relief efforts and public campaigns on the streets and in classrooms promoting hygiene and sanitation. Fatalities have dropped from 10 percent of cases early on to about 1 percent.

Still, 600 people have died from cholera this year, many in remote areas, even those unaffected by floods. There's now plenty of awareness of cholera in Haiti. The biggest challenge for people today is distance.

As the epidemic subsided over the last few months, many treatment centers have been closed in the remote areas. So, getting to places that remain open is a huge challenge. It can take hours. And that delay can be fatal.

Sentiment Joseph, a 27-year-old mother of three, will likely recover, having made it in time to get prompt antibiotics and rehydration therapy. Her husband wasn't so lucky. He died a week earlier in their home less than an hour away by motorcycle.

SENTIMENT JOSEPH, Cholera survivor (through translator): He took ill around midnight. There was no one to care for the children, no means to bring him in. We didn't have the money to hire a motorcycle.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across this spartan treatment center run by the Boston-based charity Partners in Health, other challenges were apparent from patient stories.

MAN (through translator): We don't have hygienic facilities. We treat our water, but don't have a formal latrine.

MAN (through translator): I was staying in my sister's home, and I'm not sure she treated the water.

MAN (through translator): There are 14 people living in our house. And it's very expensive to treat the water for so many people. And our only latrine was destroyed in a road-building project. So, we don't have that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cholera, not seen in Haiti for almost a century since 2010, is likely to remain for some time, says Partners in Health physician David Walton.

DR. DAVID WALTON, Partners in Health: Cholera endemic to the region, to the country is the last thing that they needed. Permanent solutions need to be put in play to be able to really stem the tide of this epidemic that is still ongoing.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says cholera's persistence is a proxy for a much larger rebuilding effort that's fallen short, one that should have provided far more access to clean water and sanitation.

DR. DAVID WALTON: On a scale of A. through F., it's a D.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At least 360,000 people remain in crowded tent camps, he notes. Other people have rebuilt in poor neighborhoods destroyed in the quake, like this one in the hilly suburb of Petionville.

Water had to be carried in. And there are few toilets, so there's a threat of cholera.

James Sanvil lives in the U.S., but was visiting family here.

JAMES SANVIL, Haiti: There is no water, no way for them to get water down here, because there's no water came, like, down here.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kevin Fussell is one of many small providers who have tried to bring relief. He's a Georgia physician who started a charity to provide safe drinking water.

His group installed clean water facilities into six schools in the central Haitian town of Mirebalais before running out of donated funds.

He says they'd like to put in many more, but have had no luck applying for funds the U.N. has for water projects.

DR. KEVIN FUSSELL, World Water Relief: They're basically trying to come up wore water solutions for an entire country. And we're working in a very small region. And they're looking for bigger global solutions.

My problem with that thinking is that three years later somebody is still thinking about global solutions, when we have real problems right here. And nothing is being done.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That's a complaint that's widely heard. In water and sanitation projects or anything else, there's little to show for the billions in aid that came in or was pledged to Haiti, says human rights activist Antonil Mortime.

ANTONIL MORTIME, Human Rights activist (through translator): I have talked to people in the tent camps. If you look at Cite Soleil, you can see that the situation is actually worse.

There's no change with education, with infrastructure or health care. Corruption, poverty and hunger haven't decreased.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nigel Fisher, head of the U.N.'s large Haiti mission here, acknowledges the slow pace, but says there has been some progress on the massive rebuilding task, a much smaller number of tent dwellings since last year, for example.

NIGEL FISHER, Deputy special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General: If Haiti were a glass, and it's gone from being 10 percent full to 15 percent full, let's recognize that without in any way diminishing the fact that you have still got 85 percent of the glass full.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But Fisher says many of the problems were endemic to Haiti long before the earthquake.

NIGEL FISHER: What we're seeing is people who are in camps because of entrenched poverty. Many of these people were hidden before in slums. They're now in the open in camps.

And that is a function of underdevelopment. It's a function of weak governance. It's a function of lack of alternatives, and which these people faced before.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says one of the biggest problems is that Haiti's government, crippled by the quake and a corrupt reputation, hasn't been able to lay down national priorities for the rebuilding.

That's largely been led by foreign non-government organizations, at least 10,000 of them, everything from small church groups to the large international agencies. NGOs have received more than 90 percent of all aid dollars.

DR. DAVID WALTON: The amount of redundancy with the more than 10,000 NGOs that the U.N. special envoy's office has estimated exist Haiti just leaves one wondering where all the money has gone.

And, frankly, if you look at, as they have done, where all the money has gone, hardly any of it has gone to strengthen the government.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Partners in Health, which has been in Haiti for 25 years, is trying to restore what it says is the appropriate role for the government.

DR. DAVID WALTON: So, 60 percent of our beds have medical gas. They also have electrical receptacles and data capacity.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The group raised $22 million to build a 300-bed state-of-the-art teaching hospital in central Haiti. However, it then partnered with Haiti's Ministry of Health to design and run it. It will turn over the hospital to the government in 10 years.

Dr. Walton says Haiti can never be rebuilt unless it has a strong, accountable government.

DR. DAVID WALTON: It would be so much easier for us to run it the way we wanted to run it and not coordinate with anybody but ourselves, because, hey, we're really smart, or at least we think we are.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And you are the guys with the money.

DR. DAVID WALTON: We are the guys with the money. And, again, NGOs don't guarantee the right of health to citizens of any country. But the government does. And we see ourselves as supporting the government.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: President Michel Martelly cut the ribbon on the new hospital, vowing his administration will do better.

International donors, who have withheld half the $5 billion they pledged to rebuild Haiti, will closely watch how projects like this hospital fare.

For many ordinary Haitians, the goal, as one health worker put it, is to make it to the end of each day alive.


Mirebalais University Hospital
Mirebalais University Hospital

Haiti Program Highlights, 2012

The purpose of this report is to provide a general update on the progress of Partners In Health's ongoing work in Haiti since the earthquake in January of 2010. Thanks to your generous support, Partners In Health has raised over $140,000.00 via globalgiving for our Haiti Earthquake Recovery project. We extend our deepest gratitude, on behalf of all of our patients and colleagues, for your commitment to and belief in helping poor people access quality health care. 

Partners In Health and our Haitian sister organization, Zanmi Lasante (“Partners In Health” in Creole, or ZL) provide medical care at 15 health centers and hospitals across Haiti’s rural Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions. As well as improving access to care, PIH/ZL is dedicated to raising the standard of care in rural Haiti by introducing new diagnostics and treatment regiments for both common and complex illnesses. 

Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (Mirebalais University Hospital)

Haiti has long been the heart of PIH’s work, and today PIH/ZL is the largest healthcare provider in Haiti. By investing in public health infrastructure and the local workforce, PIH and ZL are rebuilding the health system in rural Haiti and ensuring the long-term sustainability of our efforts. In 2010, PIH/ZL conceived of Mirebalais University Hospital (HUM) in response to an urgent request from the Haitian Ministry of Health following the destruction of the national referral and teaching hospital in Port-au-Prince in the January 2010 earthquake. Beyond delivering life-saving care to a poor and underserved population of 3.3 million in Mirebalais and central Haiti, HUM will allow us to embark on an ambitious strategy to develop the capacity of Haitian clinicians (doctors, nurses, and specialists) to provide care.

As of July, hospital construction is fully complete, and the hospital will open at partial capacity in spring 2013. Additional specialty services will be rolled out over the following two years. Upon opening, HUM will offer the following services:

  • Community health services, including vaccinations, treatment for malnutrition, and preventative care
  • Outpatient services, including TB/HIV, general adult and pediatric care, and non-communicable diseases
  • Women’s health services, including family planning, reproductive health and comprehensive emergency obstetric care
  • Inpatient care, including internal medicine, pediatrics, and intensive care
  • Surgical care, including Caesarean sections and emergency surgeries
  • Emergency medical services
  • Advanced diagnostics, including digital radiology, ultrasonography and computed tomography
  • Mental health services
  • Laboratory and pharmacy

As a national teaching hospital, HUM is designed both to provide a new standard of healthcare in the public sector and to take a leading role in training and retaining an expanded workforce of well-trained and highly motivated doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.

Cholera prevention and treatment

The cholera epidemic had affected 553,270 people and killed 7,238 nationwide between October 2010 and June 2012. From January 2011 to May 2012, PIH/ZL treated 70,582 suspected cases of cholera at our facilities, 56,506 of whom were hospitalized, and 282 of whom died. Nationwide in Haiti, the case fatality for cholera is 1.3%; at PIH/ZL facilities it is 0.4%. After a year of fighting the outbreak with treatment, we added an additional tool to our arsenal: in April, PIH/ZL launched a pilot cholera vaccination campaign which reached nearly 50,000 people with the two-dose vaccine. Though these achievements are substantial, we are additionally buoyed by the international attention we were able to draw to the epidemic and ultimately the World Health Organization’s recommendation that a stockpile of vaccines be available in Haiti

Cancer care

Building upon PIH’s existing health programs and partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health, PIH/ZL launched the first comprehensive and integrated breast cancer program in Haiti’s Central Plateau and Artibonite Departments. Currently our breast cancer program is based out of Cange. When the Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital begins operating at full capacity, the program and clinical team will transfer there.

Because breast cancer is not yet a widely recognized disease in Haiti, most patients with cancer present in very advanced stages, necessitating some combination of mastectomy, chemotherapy, and/or palliative care. For women whose cancer results are positive, ZL provides chemotherapy and surgery (mastectomies, quandrantectomies, and lumpectomies) in Cange. Our current caseload includes 10 patients that are on active chemotherapy for breast cancer, and an additional 30-40 patients receiving Tamoxifen alone.

To encourage a greater awareness of breast cancer in our catchment area, our staff also coordinate extensive education initiatives at the community and clinical levels. Community awareness events held on World Cancer Day and International Women’s Day shared information about breast cancer with a broad audience. Community health workers, who frequently visit patients in their homes, also receive information on breast cancer to pass along to their patients. We have already seen an increase in caseload as a result of these community outreach efforts, and expect that trend to continue as breast cancer awareness in our catchment area increases.

Rehabilitative medicine

Following the January 2010 earthquake, PIH/ZL marshaled the resources of academic and medical partners to treat the thousands of victims who lost limbs and mobility in the tragic event. We have since built upon this emergency response to develop and implement a community-based model of rehabilitative medicine that continues to provide care to earthquake survivors as well as a number of other patients who have suffered strokes or other catastrophic illnesses that have resulted in limited mobility.

Patients who have been injured or ill are evaluated and referred to the rehabilitation team where they are comprehensively managed by an interdisciplinary group of professionals, which includes physical medicine and rehab physicians, therapists, rehab technicians and rehab educators. Awareness and sensitivity to each patient’s unique socioeconomic needs, personal goals, and social support is paramount in the formation of a plan that ultimately facilitates maximal community reintegration. Community-based rehabilitation and long-term accompaniment by specialized community health workers called Rehab Educators account for a significant portion of the clinical care delivered and is essential in combating harmful stigma and maximizing quality of life and reintegration.

Currently, rehabilitative medicine is offered through PIH/ZL’s two largest hospitals: L’Hopital Bon Sauveur in Cange and L’Hopital Saint Nicolas in St. Marc. During FY12, PIH/ZL supported two rehab technicians, six rehab educators, and one administrative assistant who carried out 455 new consultations and 1,520 inpatient, outpatient, and community-based patient visits.

These clinical care initiatives continue to revolutionize the treatment course following catastrophic illness or injury and address the harmful notions of stigma around disability. It is through the demonstration of what is truly possible that we practice daily disability advocacy. As a ward full of onlookers stands in amazement as someone takes their first steps after injury or a community realizes what a profound impact a ramp can have on individual autonomy and access, it is apparent that this work makes an impact beyond the clinic doors. In 2013, PIH/ZL will expand rehabilitative medicine to Mirebalais University Hospital, which will include inpatient, outpatient, and community-based service delivery as well as an emphasis on clinical rotations for medical residents. 

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Organization Information

Partners In Health (PIH)

Location: Boston, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Laura Soucy
Annual Giving Coordinator
Boston, MA United States

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