I’ve left Port-au-Prince and arrived in a small village in the Bas Limbé region of northern Haiti. I’m with a Newfoundland-based TBE team that will provide basic medical care in remote villages over the next week.
It’s about an eight-hour bus ride, or a 30-minute flight plus 90-minute bumpy beautiful drive to get here from Port-au-Prince. But in many ways, these places seem worlds apart.
In Port-au-Prince, TBE lives in quarters attached to a busy urban center. We often hear gunfire outside. An armed guard is required to accompany us 10 metres across the street.
Here, our guesthouse looks out at the ocean. Kids play soccer in the sand outside our house. They hold our hands and follow us around wherever we go. It’s an area virtually untouched by the 2010 earthquake.
But Bas Limbé does share a sad similarity with the Haitian capital: people die from a lack of basic medical care. It’s not unusual to see six-week-old babies that weigh six pounds or less. Local toddlers appear chubby but you learn quickly to look for the thinning, frizzy hair that’s suggestive of low protein, despite their fat bellies. HIV rates are high. Infections, worms and skin diseases are rampant.
In 2007, a Canadian physician Tiffany Keenan set up Haiti Village Health (HVH), an organization that provides some basic medical care to these hidden-away areas accessible only by single-lane gravel road. In the last year, many HVH clinics have closed due to lack of funding. It’s unknown if these closures are permanent.
I’m here now with a Newfoundland-based TBE crew of nine physicians, two paramedics, a nurse and a dietitian, who continue the work of HVH. Over the next week, they’ll set up day clinics in five different villages in the region. They hope to treat about 160 patients a day, primarily mothers and children. Tickets have been given out through the region for families who fit the HVH mandate. Patients with urgent care needs will also be seen.
I think the events of our first few hours here speak volumes about the need. We arrived in the village in the late afternoon. We planned a quick swim, a relaxed dinner, an early night before a long first full day.
But as soon as we walked in from the beach, two women walked up to our gate. One carried a tiny baby, the other woman held a brightly colored umbrella to offer shade.
They explained that the infant was born 15 hours before. The little girl was now feverish and listless. Still in beach clothes, the team took the baby up to the terrace. They rooted through luggage to locate a thermometer because we didn’t yet have access to the village clinic, and gave the baby antibiotics and water through a syringe before arranging a transport to the nearest hospital.
Meanwhile, a pregnant woman from the village knocked on the gate. She was having sharp pain in her belly. We walked over the former clinic behind our house (passing three skinny goats and a skinnier baby goat in the yard). There, one of the physicians diagnosed her with an infection and dug through the pharmacy to find antibiotics. She went home late in the evening with a request to return if anything changed.
We visited her this morning in the dark, small one-room hut where she sleeps on the floor with her family. She’s still having pains but less severe and less often.
We asked what services were available for her when we leave. The answer: hope for a normal delivery or she’ll have an emergency ride to the nearest hospital with whatever vehicle they can find.