Health care project in Haiti

by Roger Annis
(Note: This report contains corrected figures as of August 22.)

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI, August 19–Three months ago, a group of nurses and other health care professionals joined together to form the Syndicat haitien des professionels(elles) de santé (SHPS–Haitian Union of Health Professionals). Their mission is to provide health care to towns throught central ande southern Haiti through the use of mobile health clinics.

This extraordinary project is supported by the transport workers of the APCH union. The health workers travel by bus to outlying areas to provide consultations, care and medications. They charge 50 gourdes (US$1.50) for a consultation and for medication if needed. That compares to 100 gourdes for a consultation in the feeble public health system and many hundreds of additional gourdes if medication is required. They receive no government support at this time because, they are told, no such resources exist.

The group receives some funding and equipment from such non-governmental organizations as Solidarité, Aide médicale internationale, and Médecins du monde. But it’s far from enough. The group must buy the medicine it dispenses out of its own members’ pockets, and the group does not yet have an office from which to operate.

Association spokesperson Jean Baptise Marie Michelle told this writer, “In Haiti, public health is in very poor condition. Our work may not be able to last for more than a few more months if we do not receive financial support.”

Life expectancy in Haiti is a 57 years, one of the lowest rates in the world. Infant mortality is 63.8 per 1,000 live births. (This compares to rates of 78 years and 6.7 per 1,000 resp. in the United States.) Deadly diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are widespread. In Port au Prince, a city of 2 million people, there are only 820 hospital beds. In the Pistelle, Couriel, and Beaumont regions (“communes”) of Grand Anse Department, there is only one doctor to serve a population of 140,000.

The members of the SHPS came together because they were dissatisfied at their jobs in public hospitals or private clinics. Salaries are low, especially in the public system, and work conditions are poor. Cleaners in public hospitals, for example, earn the minimum wage or slightly above, 70 gourdes (US$2) per day. A typical nurse’s salary is $5 per day.

Nurses in private clinics and hospitals earn more than in public hospitals, but work conditions and benefits are equally poor.