Dire conditions disproportionately threaten women living at the hundreds of settlement camps for homeless earthquake survivors in and around Haiti’s devastated capital, Port-au-Prince. Threats include higher rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as an increase in maternal mortality and violence against women.
PIH and its Haitian sister organization Zanmi Lasante (ZL) are working to respond to these threats to women and their children. Last month, we reported on work to strengthen our women’s health service program at four large settlements. These efforts were organized by staff from ZL’s Proje Sante Fanm—“Women’s Health Project” in Haitian Creole.
Since then, the Proje Sante Fanm staff have joined the teams at the established health clinics at Parc Jean-Marie Vincent, Building 2004, Dadadou, and Caradeux—settlements with a combined population of roughly 88,000 people. They operate women-focused spaces separate from the general clinics, where women can seek medical care, advice, refuge, and a private and safe space for nursing their infants. Female nurses staffing these spaces also provide visiting women with information about family planning, prenatal care, general reproductive and OB/GYN-related information, testing and treatment for HIV and STIs.
During Proje Sante Fanm’s first two weeks working in the camps, about 200 women sought services in these safe-spaces. Staff also travel out into the settlements to check on women who are unable to come to the clinic, and accompanied women with issues too severe for the settlement clinics to medical appointments at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince.
Proje Sante Fanm’s work in the settlement camps is a continuation of their mission to bring gender equality and access to high quality health services to Haiti’s women—a population that has faced a disproportionate burden of disease well before the January earthquake. Maternal mortality rates are shockingly high—670 deaths per 100,000 births. In comparison, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is 11 deaths per 100,000 births, according to World Health Organization statistics. Women face higher barriers to accessing health care, as travel to clinics (which could take hours or even days in some rural areas) can be difficult or impossible with small children to care for and other household responsibilities; in addition to a general lack of information and education about women’s health.
ZL launched Proje Sante Famn in 1990. The project trains local women to be ajan fanm, women’s health agents, who locate women in the community and encourage them to come to PIH/ZL clinics for antenatal and post-birth care. Once at the clinics, nurses and matron—traditional birth attendants—offer these women health care services and information specific to them. Last year, there were about 100,000 patient visits to Proje Sante Fanm’s clinics.