Re the Jan. 11 article, Haiti’s new $83 million general hospital still not built: Public health pioneer Larry Mellon established Haiti’s Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) nearly 60 years ago, creating the world’s first sustainable model for effective, community-based healthcare delivery in the developing world.
His collaborative approach to public health, where communities are actively engaged in the effort, proved to be particularly beneficial five years ago when an unthinkable earthquake overwhelmed Haiti’s healthcare system. In its aftermath, HAS was one of the only hospitals in the country that remained in continuous operation. With a deep connection to community and a medical team that is largely Haitian, HAS was able to mobilize resources quickly to provide treatment and care for the busloads of patients who began to arrive within hours after the quake.
Five years later, HAS and other healthcare organizations in Haiti are still feeling “aftershocks” of the quake. Road improvements made possible through post-earthquake funding have resulted in more traumatic injuries from traffic accidents than ever before, putting a strain on emergency care. In addition, population shifts, where tens of thousands of people migrated out of Port-au-Prince to more rural areas have meant a greater demand for a full range of healthcare services beyond the capital city.
At the same time, key indicators of public health here such as life expectancy and maternal and infant mortality still lag alarmingly behind the developed world.
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While it’s true that investments in industry and infrastructure have helped some communities since the earthquake, public health must be a top priority if Haiti is ever to be self-sustaining. Children won’t learn and communities won’t prosper if they are not physically healthy.
The impact of an organization committed to improving public health can be significant. For example, diseases such as polio, tetanus and measles have been virtually eliminated in the region served by HAS. Through a network of 42 community health workers, HAS immunizes thousands of children, provides pre- and post-natal care for mothers, and provides reproductive health education to women and adolescent girls.
Because of HAS community development programs, more than 120,000 people now have access to clean water in the lower Artibonite Valley, where 40 percent of the population is without such access.
For those with serious illnesses and injuries in Haiti, a hospital can mean the difference between life and death. Indeed, HAS is one of few hospitals in the country that provides emergency trauma care and treatment of acute illness. It is also one of few with a well-equipped microbiology lab to help diagnose a wide range of illnesses.
Investment in public health is essential now in Haiti, and will pay dividends for years to come.
Anna Murdoch Mann, board member, Haiti’s Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, Palm Beach