On Friday, December 10, Catherine Porter wrote an excellent in-depth article about health care in Haiti for the Toronto Star, "Death and Decay in Haiti's Hospitals."
The piece is framed with the story of Lovely, a 25-year-old Haitian who recently lost her baby because her family lacks access to medical treatment. Like most Haitians, Lovely can’t afford the $1.50 USD fee required for admission to her local hospital.
Porter explains the ways poverty underlies the high rates of maternal and child mortality in Haiti. More than that, she argues that Haiti’s health care system has been hampered by failure to strengthen the public sector. Instead, a vast number of NGOs work by themselves, while Haiti’s Ministry of Health (MOH) attempts to offer health care to nearly 10 million people on roughly $30 million (US) a year.
Of course, things should be different. And in some instances, they are.
Porter highlights Partners In Health’s work at de Lacolline clinic in Lascahobas as an example of a medical facility that works “for the rich and poor alike.” In Hospital de Lacolline and its 14 other facilities, PIH partners with the MOH to rehabilitate and adequately staff rural medical centers, and in turn offers free health care to everyone living in the facilities catchment area.
“Haiti is one of the easiest places on Earth to die — not from violence, although last week more than a dozen people were shot in post-election protests, but from easily treated illnesses,” Porter notes. “Cholera, a disease cured with sugar, salt and clean water…has killed more than 2,100 Haitians since October.”
“Almost six babies of every 100 die soon after birth. One in 12 won’t make it to age 5 — most succumbing to diarrhea and the flu,” she continues. “More women die during childbirth here than in any other country in the western hemisphere. A lot more. For every 100,000 live births, 630 Haitian mothers perish — more than triple the number of mothers in Bolivia, which has the next-worst chance of survival (200 per 100,000). In Canada, only 7 die.”
“The country’s primary hospital (HUEH) was funded like a university dorm, hence its pathetic legacy. While Toronto’s Mount Sinai spends $445 million a year, HUEH’s budget is $5 million — 90 per cent sapped by salaries, which were both low and irregular. Top doctors here make $590 a month, when they are paid, so everyone — including Lassegue — has a private clinic, where they work two to three days a week,” writes Porter. “In principle, treatment here was free. In practice, patients were sent across the street to private pharmacies to buy everything from surgical gloves to needles.”
“In April, the health ministry proposed rebuilding the many damaged hospitals, and adding others throughout the country so that every Haitian will be within 30 minutes of a health facility.”
An example of a solution that works - the PIH/Ministry Hospital de Lacoline in Lascahobas:
Head north to “the dusty town of Lascahobas. At the end of the main road, lined with saloon-like stores, sits what could pass for an Oakville golf clubhouse: low-slung white buildings surrounded by manicured lawns and birds of paradise. People sit on benches under a trellis of white flowers awaiting prescriptions. No garbage, no pulsing gutter, no smell of urine. Yes, the hospital is basic, but it is clean and welcoming. Most importantly, it is free.”
“Officially, patients pay 25 gourdes (62 cents) as an admission fee, which covers all their treatments and medication. Most don’t pay even that.”