By Kathryn Mahoney, PIH Haiti Communications Coordinator
At dusk on March 19th, just as the “supermoon” was rising, PIH doctor David Walton took me on tour of the site of the future Mirebalais Hospital. Normally, it’s bustling with more than 100 Haitian construction workers who work around the clock, even over the weekend. But on the eve of the second round of presidential elections, they had all returned to their homes to vote on Sunday, offering us a rare and quiet opportunity to explore the site.
A few weeks prior, I found myself standing on the roof of the hospital, overlooking the future location of the OB-GYN and inpatient women’s ward. At the time, I contemplated the footprint of the buildings and grew lost in a forest of steel rebar. I tried, and failed, to imagine what the building would look like when the walls are raised.
Standing once again on the roof weeks later, I see that walls have been erected for these two wards, and also for the neonatal intensive care unit; the radiology department; the main laboratory; and the pharmacy. For someone as challenged with blueprints as I am, I could finally visualize not only what this part of the hospital will resemble, but also how it will functionally serve up to 500 patients a day.
We climb down from the roof precariously, almost in total darkness. We arrive in front of a recently constructed wall, which Dr. Walton tells me we will have to knock down. Days prior, the team made a decision to alter the blueprint in a way that will fundamentally transform the provision of care at the hospital. PIH has decided to add a room to house the first CT scanner in Haiti’s public health sector. With only three functional CT scanners in the country—all of them in costly private practices—Mirebalais will be the first public hospital equipped with this important tool for disease detection and diagnosis. Short for computed tomography, CT Scans combine computer technology with x-ray imagery to generate a clear and detailed 3D image for doctors to examine. Such scans of internal organs, soft tissue, and bones help doctors to more easily diagnose a myriad of conditions such as cancer, infectious disease, trauma and cardiovascular disease. For the increased safety of patients and medical personnel, PIH will procure a new energy-efficient model that releases significantly less radiation.
Bringing innovative technology from developed countries into a resource-poor setting is not just about purchasing a machine—it’s about building human capacity through educational training to operate, maintain and repair the equipment to effect improved care. A CT scanner in Mirebalais is much more than a tool that will strengthen public sector care and avert preventable deaths—it’s an important investment in human capital to equip Haitian medical professionals with a new skill set in disease detection and management.
With the rainy season only a few weeks away, Dr. Walton informs me that the team has been working quickly on a drainage system to ensure that the incoming torrential rains will not stop the construction’s momentum. In the future, functional drainage will not only help prevent flooding during the long rainy season, but will have a huge impact on public health. Blocked drains and stagnant water are breeding grounds for harmful bacteria, mosquitoes carrying malaria and dengue fever, and have been a contributing factor to the ongoing cholera crisis in Haiti.
Behind the scenes of the chaotic construction site, Partners In Health has been holding ongoing discussions with a number of American and Canadian universities to enhance academic involvement at Mirebalais in the future. Many schools have indicated a willingness to participate in institutional partnerships on specialized care, such as emergency medicine and intensive care. Academic partnerships allow for a sharing of experiences whereby US experts in specialty care can train Haitian doctors, who in return, expose Americans to cases and challenges they wouldn’t normally see outside of the US. It is exactly this type of cross-site fertilization that PIH is looking to foster at the teaching hospital.
Seeing rapid construction in Mirebalais is realizing that each wall that rises is one of many that will support Haiti’s largest public sector hospital. In less than a year, these are the walls that will provide thousands of Haitians quality care in dignity. And by the time all phases of construction are complete, Mirebalais Hospital will be a beacon of specialized care for the region.
As we leave, I ask Dr. Walton if the blueprint might have to be altered again. “If these walls keep going up, and I know they will, I think, perhaps, we might need a landing strip to accommodate all those who will flock here.”