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Haiti: helping hands for tuberculosis patients and disabled people

12-03-2010 Feature

The earthquake that struck Haiti two months ago has brought new challenges for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The Red Cross is supporting a tuberculosis sanatorium in Léogane and a rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities in Port-au-Prince.

©ICRC / J. Barry / v‑p‑ht‑e‑00607 
Sigueneau Sanatorium, Léogane, Haiti. The wards of the sanatorium were badly damaged in the January 2010 quake, and four of the patients died. 
©ICRC / J. Barry / v‑p‑ht‑e‑00609 
Sigueneau Sanatorium, Léogane, Haiti. An emergency response team from the Swiss Red Cross helped to locate and erect tents that could be used as hospital wards. 
©ICRC / J. Barry 
Sigueneau Sanatorium, Léogane, Haiti. "Our wish is to give patients the best service we possibly can," explains Sister Chantal of the order of the Little Sisters of Saint Theresa. 
©ICRC / J. Barry / v‑p‑ht‑e‑00608 
Sigueneau Sanatorium, Léogane, Haiti. ICRC health delegate Béatriz Karottki discusses the situation at Sigueneau with the medical director of the hospital, Dr Joachim. On the right: Dr Milo Richard, of the Haitian government's TB programme. 
  ©ICRC / J. Barry / v‑p‑ht‑e‑00610 
St Germain Rehabilitation Centre, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Five-year-old Michel was brought to the Centre by his father. His left leg had been amputated below the knee following injuries sustained when the family's house collapsed in the earthquake. He has now been fitted with an artificial leg and is learning to walk and play again. 

The earthquake has brought new challenges for hundreds of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS patients being cared for by nuns in the Sigueneau sanatorium at Léogane, a port town some 30 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince.

Several buildings in the hospital were badly damaged during the quake, and four patients died. Large cracks appeared in the walls of the laboratory, pharmacy and consulting rooms, rendering them unusable.

With the help of a Swiss Red Cross delegate, the nuns from the order of the Little Sisters of Saint Theresa pulled hospital beds out into the open. As soon as possible, they set up donated tents for the 20 patients who had remained at the sanatorium, the others having fled in panic. The sisters also moved their own beds outside for safety.

A nearby Canadian army unit helped level a suitable patch of land so that larger tents could be erected and kitted out as wards. The Swiss delegate and teams from the Spanish and Mexican Red Cross Societies installed water bladders, connected them up to water points and tap stands, and built latrines and showers. The Spanish team and the Haitian Red Cross arranged for a water truck to refill the bladders daily.

Order has gradually been restored to the sanatorium. Outpatient consultations have resumed, and the tented hospital has admitted new patients. Those who fled after the quake have either returned or are coming back regularly to collect their medicine. " Our wish is to give patients the best service we possibly can, " said Sister Chantal. " We want to continue doing so for as long as there are patients who need us. "

 High tuberculosis rate  

Haiti has one of the highest rates of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in the Americas. According to the World Health Organization's 2009 Global Tuberculosis Control Report, there were over 29,000 new TB cases in Haiti in 2007 alone. The Sigueneau sanatorium is one of four specialist units supported by the ministry of health's national TB and HIV/AIDS programme. It is also the referral hospital of choice for several medical aid agencies and treats TB patients from Haiti's prisons.

Although Sigueneau receives regular supplies of drugs for the treatment of both TB and HIV/AIDS, other basic medicines and dressing materials are in short supply. Since the earthquake, there has also been a shortage beds, and there are not enough tents to store supplies or house equipment from the now unsafe laboratory. The ICRC has provided the nuns with dressing and medical kits, tents and beds. At the same time, the organization is encouraging donors to continue to provide the hospital with basic medicines and dressing materials long-term.

 Caring for children with disabilities  

The St Germain rehabilitation centre normally cares for children with severe physical or mental disabilities. Its newest patients, however, are earthquake victims, and the centre is filling up with young amputees.

Among them is five-year-old Michel, whose left leg had to be amputated after the family home collapsed in the quake. Michel's father brought him to St Germain to be fitted with an artificial leg, and for help to get him walking again.

Michel is a lively little boy, and has already learned to stand on his tiny new leg. He was busy trundling around on a red and yellow plastic tricycle when the ICRC health team visited St Germain last week to deliver food, mattresses, sheets, mosquito nets and basic household items. Some of these goods, including one month's food rations, will be given to the families of 150 physically disabled children who will shortly be discharged to make room for the new arrivals. Without such help, the children's parents would have difficulty looking after them. The rest of the supplies will help care for and feed 100 mentally handicapped youngsters who have nowhere else to go.

 Helping the helpers  

The assistance that Sigueneau and St Germain have received in recent days is part of the ICRC's response to the current emergency. However, the organization has been supporting medical facilities in prisons and shanty towns since it started working in Haiti in 1994, and that long-term support will continue.

The ICRC also supports the work of the Haitian National Red Cross Society, which maintains first-aid posts and gets the sick and wounded to hospital in impoverished violence-prone areas of Port-au-Prince. In addition, the Haitian Red Cross plays a vital role in promoting preventive health care at community level.

Working with facilities such as the Sigueneau sanatorium or the St Germain rehabilitation centre highlights the extraordinary dedication of the local responders who look after some of Haiti's most vulnerable and least-regarded communities. It is these Haitian helpers who will remain long after the country has overcome the effects of the earthquake.

Facts & Figures 

  Since the 12 January earthquake, the ICRC has:  

  • enabled 29,000 names to be registered on www.familylinks.icrc.org/haiti (the ICRC's site for restoring links between family members) including the names of 6,100 people who wanted to tell their families that they were alive;
  • worked with the Haitian Red Cross and the Haitian government to reunite four children aged between two and twelve with their families, while continuing to handle the cases of 70 other unaccompanied children with a view to reuniting them with their families as well;
  • visited some 700 detainees in the main police stations of Port-au-Prince and in Cap-Haïtien Prison;
  • supplied 20 tonnes of food, to feed 4,000 detainees for three weeks;
  • carried out emergency repairs to the sanitation system, plumbing and kitchen of Port-au-Prince Prison, with other work still in progress;
  • supported 10 Haitian Red Cross first-aid posts in Port-au-Prince and two in Petit-Goâve, at which first-aiders have so far treated over 17,300 people;
  • regularly supplied medicines to the Rosalie Rendu maternity/paediatric centre in Cité Soleil, to which over 500 children under five come for consultations every day;
  • supported a major vaccination campaign carried out by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the authorities in Martissant, Bel-Air and Canapé-Vert, as a result of which over 137,000 adults and children are now protected against German measles, whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria;
  • provided training in the management of corpses to 21 staff from the State university hospital mortuary and four volunteers from the Haitian Red Cross, and supplied over 2,000 body bags to the mortuary and other relief organizations;
  • distributed drinking water to 18,000 people in Port-au-Prince every day and helped the authorities to repair the water network that serves the 207,000 inhabitants of Cité Soleil;
  • distributed essential items to over 20,000 people in Port-au-Prince, Léogane, Jacmel and Cayes, and distributed 50 tonnes of food to over 4,000 people in Delmas 60 and Primature (Port-au-Prince);
  • financed refuse collection at seven sites housing some 45,000 displaced persons and installed 60 latrines in the camps in Delmas.