Zanmi Lasante, PIH’s sister organization in Haiti, recently launched a program that addresses two top priorities – training the next generation of Haitian health professionals and fighting a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,300 patients since it first broke out in mid-October.

Beginning in late November, six Haitian medical students were deployed to assist PIH/Zanmi Lasante (ZL) medical staff dealing with the cholera outbreak in the country’s Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite departments. They are now helping manage the daily influx of new cholera patients--about 300 each day--across the organization’s medical clinics and cholera treatment centers.

The students significantly increase the number of site physicians working to control an epidemic that is expected to grow in coming months. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 650,000 Haitians will be infected within the next six months.

The students have been divided into teams and sent on clinical rotations to three PIH/ZL sites – St. Marc, Cange, and Mirebalais – where they are participating in community health education and training activities used to slow the spread of a disease that had not been seen in Haiti since the 1960s.

Read more about PIH response to Haiti’s cholera epidemic.

“[During the rotations] PIH/ZL instructors discuss public health issues related to resource-poor countries,” says Dr. Charles-Patrick Almazor, the physician running this clinical rotation, which was established in partnership with the medical school at l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, Haiti’s national university. “Topics range from the broad, such as health system strengthening, to the specific, like operating a cholera treatment center,” he added.

“We decided to start this program a few months after the earthquake,” says Dr. Almazor. “All the senior medical leaders involved felt it was important to help and to give back what we have learned, not only because we were once students from l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti ourselves but also because we thought it is part of our job to share our model with future generations.”

Though relatively small in size, initiatives like this are a crucial piece in the rebuilding of Haiti’s medical system – much of which was damaged as a result of the earthquake. As crucially, the students are providing much-needed relief for staff who have been working tirelessly these past few months.

The number of medical students working in the clinics will increase to eight when the next group of students moves into the month-long rotation in January. “The students learn by doing,” Dr. Almazor reports. “And when they have questions, we listen and teach.”