Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hospital Visits

Throughout this past week, Gordon and I have been trying to visit as many hospitals as we can. We've been averaging roughly four a day while still trying to manage the distribution of supplies to current partners from our warehouse. For a country like Haiti however, just getting the names and addresses of the hospitals in the area is a challenge. The UN is meant to be collecting data on all the hospitals and clinics in the country and providing that information to the public, but this report has gotten delayed. It seems like they are trying to create a ground-breaking study of health services in Haiti pre and post quake, which is great, but right now we just need to know where people are going to get medical services and what capabilities these sites have. So we are finding the sites mainly through word of mouth, GPS coordinates, and referrals.
The strange thing about going inside these hospitals is that there is no one in them. All the patients are outside in tents either waiting to be seen or recovering from some surgery they've just had in another tent. Whether it's because these buildings have been deemed unsafe or because the patients have been told not to go in them is unclear, but either way it's a terrible situation. Yesterday, we saw a woman recovering from a double amputation laying in a tent in 95 degree weather. I can't really imagine anything worse.
And yet you'll see kids like these who act like nothing has happened. We were being led around Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince and were followed the entire time by this group of kids begging for their picture to be taken over and over again. They couldn't have been happier. This girl above had a compund fracture and was sharing a bed in an outdoor tent with her mom and still looks like this!
Obviously this is not always the scene when we arrive at a hospital. This morning we visited the Grace Children's Hospital who specialize in treating kids with HIV and TB. I was too uncomfortable/shocked/saddened to take pictures of it, but the outdoor tents in this hospital were filled with cribs of the tiniest, skiniest babies I've ever seen and none of them had moms around to share their tent with. Unfortunately the medical director was not around to speak with (the president has declared yesterday, and indeed the entire weekend, a national day of mourning to remember those who died in the earthquake) but we are planning on going back first thing Monday morning to figure out how we can supply this facility.
And yet, the thing that has angered me most about being here is the absolute failure of the government to do anything positive. An official from the Ministry of Health approached us yesterday because he heard we were giving out free medicines to hospitals around the country and he basically asked us to stop doing it, at least until they decide how the new health system will be structured. He said that because hospitals have always been required to buy medicines from either government stocks or private pharmacies, giving out free medications will undermine that system and hurt the government and the businesses that sell these drugs.
While neither I nor Direct Relief wants to upset the capitalist system down in Haiti or cause sales in the local pharmaceutical industry to slump, we're going to keep doing what we're doing. Clearly none of these hospitals, who are all providing completely free services, can afford to buy anything. They can't even pay their own staff or rebuild their buildings.
So if you don't hear from me in a few days, check the basement in the Haitian government building...


  1. Andrew -- Everything you describe is so shocking! Thanks for letting us go along on your journey. Please stay safe and out of government basements! Thanks for your good work for the poor and for this amazing blog -- Gail

  2. The blog has been wonderful, of course, but the pictures of those darling kids are heart-wrenching. Love, Mom