“We used to have 14 to 15 cholera victims a day,” Dr. Mireille Peck, a GHESKIO physician and head of its community program, said on a stroll through the Village of God.
A year ago February, the clinic, with government support, started a door-to-door cholera vaccination campaign using smart phones. It went even further, teaming with residents to enter homes to conduct a health survey and treat victims.
That relationship made the clinic’s staff realize the residents were their neighbors, Pape said.
“My staff is happy they did it. They realized these are real people who have needs like everybody else, which is to send their kids to school and hope for a better life,” he said.
Paul Farmer, chair of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine said, “Haiti’s progress depends on inclusion and inclusion depends on some basic services.”
“You can’t do good medicine for poor people without having some strategies to address their poverty,” said Farmer, whose Boston-based Partners In Health/Zanmi Lasante nonprofit medical organization provided the cholera vaccination to Haitians living in the Central Plateau, where the disease started.
“Anyone who exposes him or herself as a nurse or physician to a lot of patients living in poverty gets an earful about social conditions,” Farmer said.
As a result, addressing transportation, food, electricity and housing issues become important in struggling communities such as Village of God.
On a recent morning, as workers from GHESKIO toured the Village, some of its 10,000 residents chatted about the transformation. The tension that normally welcomed visitors has been replaced with pride, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
“This is a zone that used to be very dirty. They have motivated us,” said Gabriel Mizo, 46, a block leader inside the community. “GHESKIO’s doctors have brought a lot of hope.”
Then someone shouts: “There is no more cholera here.”
Crime persists, however. Earlier this month, Haiti National Police launched a surprise raid, arresting 17 gang members including a top leader.
But much of the activities in the village these days center around the work of clinic staff. Throughout the community, there are several oral re-hydration points for those who contract cholera. Specialized buckets of portable water, created in the clinic’s lab, are also provided to families. Even the water provided by private providers has improved, thanks to negotiations by the clinic’s doctors.
On a tour of the village, Peck notes the visuals that are also feeding the sense of pride. Lots once strewn with garbage are clean, and canals normally infested with mosquitoes have been reduced to puddles.
“You don’t see how it is clean?” she said, stopping in front of a group of women who were employed in a clinic-run community clean-up program that closed in November after funds dried up. “They are still sweeping because they have taken ownership of the project.”
A few yards away, giggling school children pour out of one of the few multi-story structures. Almost all of the students have been vaccinated against cholera by GHESKIO’s teams — as well as against several common childhood diseases through an unrelated Ministry of Health campaign.
“If today we have these children sitting here and they are healthy, after God, we have to thank Dr. Peck and the people at GHESKIO,” said Pastor Jean Samson Charles, the school’s director. “They have stood alongside us and fought for us to allow us to be here today.”