The reason I went to Haiti in the first place was not to take snapshots of the countryside, or ponder the possible racial root causes of poverty there, but to serve as an RN with Midwives for Haiti. According to the Midwives for Haiti website:
“Midwives For Haiti offers education and training in prenatal care and skilled birth assistance to Haitian nurses, so that they may better serve their fellow Haitian sisters, who too frequently are lost or lose their newborns in childbirth without such care. Each year, we host an 11-month course taught and precepted by four Haitian midwives, who are assisted by volunteer midwives from North America and Europe. The earthquake in January 2010 devastated parts of this beloved country and her people. This great loss in qualified medical professionals and infrastructure has made the work of Midwives For Haiti even more necessary.”
I first became acquainted with the work of Midwives for Haiti through Christy Turlington’s cause-driven website: Every Mother Counts. In May, I was invited by Holly Rosen Fink to participate in a podcast with Ms. Turlington sponsored by Pivoting Media as part of the Pinterest Give a Thought campaign. During that podcast, I began to seriously think about going to Haiti myself.
MFH is exactly the sort of American-sponsored NGO that I think is valuable for Haiti. After being in Haiti, and spending time reading about the history and unique cultural challenges there, I believe that equipping Haitians to take care of their own people is the best way we can serve them.
According to the UNICEF website:
- Haiti has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere. Diarrhea, respiratory infections, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are the leading causes of death.
- Some 60 per cent of people, primarily in rural areas, lack access to basic health-care services.
- Numerous schools and hospitals have closed because teachers, social workers and health providers could not go to work for fear of violence.
- It is estimated that about 5.6 per cent of people aged 15-49 years old in Haiti are living with HIV/AIDS. This includes about 19,000 children. Antiretroviral drugs are extremely scarce.
- As many as 2,000 children a year are trafficked to the Dominican Republic, often with their parents’ support.
- Only a little over half of primary school-age children are enrolled in school. Less than 2 per cent of children finish secondary school.
- Approximately 1,000 children are working as messengers, spies and even soldiers for armed gangs in Port Au Prince.
How Midwives for Haiti is Bringing Services to Those in Need
I had the amazing opportunity to travel with MFH on the pink jeep with the mobile prenatal clinic for two days of my trip.
The mobile prenatal clinic carries trained midwives and midwifery students, and all necessary supplies, to outlying communities where they provide much needed prenatal care to women who live very far from any hospital or medical clinic.
These trips can take up to 3 hours by jeep on unpaved roads, across rivers, and into some of the most rural parts of Haiti.
Once the pink jeep arrives at the designated location (usually a church or other large meeting area), the midwives and assistants work quickly setting up the clinic out of the four suitcases they bring along the way.
Pregnant women walk many miles to get to these clinics. One of the most important services the midwives provide is prenatal education, including the signs and symptoms of pre-eclampsia. (Eclampsia is the #1 cause of maternal death in Haiti).
The women listen attentively while the midwives explain the signs and symptoms to look for, and when the women should head for a hospital for proper medical care.
The women wait patiently for hours to be seen by the midwives. Unlike in the US, the clinic setting is very open and communal. In one clinic, we were performing pap smears behind a counter with all of the other women sitting within listening distance on the other side.
The midwives obtain a medical history on each woman that they compile into a chart that they keep in a mobile file. The midwives take blood pressures, test urine for protein and bacteria, and perform speculum exams for gonorrhea and chlamydia. They also perform HIV and Malaria blood tests.
While I was there, several women were discovered to have gonorrhea and HIV. The clinic gives antibiotics to both the woman and her partner if she is positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia, and counseling and referrals for women who are HIV+.
The students get lots of experience performing routine prenatal assessments such fundal height measurement:
Auscultation of fetal heart tones:
and Leopold’s Maneuvers to ascertain position of the fetus:
After a long day of prenatal clinic where they sometimes see up to 85 patients in one day(!) the midwives embark on the long drive home.
On the last day of mobile clinic, Susan Kamin, CNM and I traveled a long way through a lot of mud to earn this picture. We did it for one day, but the Midwives in Haiti do it day in and day out, through rainy seasons and dry, bringing much needed prenatal care to women who would otherwise receive none. They are remarkable, each and every one of them.