Johanna’s Story | “I found myself in the hospital this week”

Our Programmes Support Intern, University College Cork (UCC) student Johanna Murray, recently went through a difficult bout of food poisoning. Thankfully, she is recovering well and, as she tells us in her latest blog, her experience is giving her new perspective on the challenges of healthcare in Haiti.

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s blog!

As anyone who read last week’s blog will know, I was rather indisposed after a dosage of food poisoning. Unfortunately, those parasites weren’t quite finished with me and I found myself in the clinic on Île à Vache and a hospital in Port au Prince this week.

This brings me along nicely to the topic of discussion this week – healthcare.

I must say, I was taken care of extremely well. I experienced doctors, hospitals and clinics, and each time was different, but the underlying care was the same. In the clinic on Île à Vache, I had eight people fretting over me, making sure I was okay. They brought in two fans to cool me down and constantly made sure I was alright.

On the other hand, things were very basic. I got bitten by so many mosquitoes and had a lovely lizard to accompany me in the room. I also had to go back to my house still attached to the drip as the clinic was closing and there were no real facilities for me to stay the night. Sandra (our Programmes Manager) and I were a picture leaving the clinic on the moto (motorbike, the usual form of transport on Île à Vache), with Nikoli, our moto driver in the front, me in the middle, and Sandra at the back, holding up the drip.

While I was lucky to live close to the clinic on the island and not have a life-threatening case, this is not always the situation for everyone. Île à Vache is only building its first stone road at the moment.  Other than that, the island is full of dirt tracks, leading you to the other side of the island and its airstrip. Once it rains, those roads turn to muck. There are no cars on the island and the poor motos are unable to drive through the muck.

So, what does someone do when they are on the other side of the island and the roads are impassable, but they’ve broken a bone or are suffering from a heart attack? This is the reality for many people throughout Haiti. Ambulances are few and far between and, in places like Port au Prince, traffic is an absolute killer, never mind manifestations (protests or demonstrations).

There have been many times on Île à Vache when Damien (our Country Director) has been asked to bring a sick relative to Les Cayes, the closest mainland city, for emergency care. During the most recent storm, a sick child was in need of such care and it was Damien who had to organise the boat and bring him to help.

Although there are many flaws within our own health system in Ireland, there are basic structures in place which give us at least basic health care.  We have our local General Practitioners (GPs), the care doctors, clinics, and hospitals. We don’t have to worry about the state of the roads. And we know that, once in the hospital, we will generally have the equipment, the medication etc needed.

Once on our way from Les Cayes to Port au Prince – a four hour drive minimum – we came upon a manifestation. There is only one road between the two cities so, if a blockade is erected, there’s not much anyone can do about it. Although annoying, we were able to wait until the blockade was lifted, but all I remember is seeing an ambulance desperately trying to find a way through. It did eventually, thankfully – but that is the reality here.

What healthcare is available is also very expensive. People who live in extreme poverty cannot even afford to make use of the facilities provided. For example, the hospital in Port au Prince was of a high standard but very quiet, with practically no one in the emergency room. Many people will just sell their medication in order to get food.

The clinic is a huge asset on Île à Vache, and Haven closely monitors its progress. Having trained 20 Community Health Workers (CHWs) in 2017, we are now employing all 20 to work across the island, working closely with the clinic to improve health and wellbeing for all the island’s communities. Hopefully, once the new road is complete on the island it will help improve access to medical care too.

I have one more doctor visit which will hopefully put me in the all clear, but I am extremely grateful to the staff of Haven for taking care of me and all those medical professionals who gave me the care I needed.


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