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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Haïti. Sans pub mais efficaces,les medecins cubains

by Cathy Ceibe. Special Correspondant.

Haïti: The Cuban Doctors: They’re Unsung but Efficient

Haïti. Sans pub mais efficaces, les medecins cubains

Translated Saturday 13 February 2010, by Alison Billington and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The Cuban aid-workers have been bringing help to the Haitian victims of the earthquake since the 12th December. The broad measures include volunteers from Havana and two rural hospitals.

Eris, sitting on the steps of the Cubano-Haïtian ophthalmological Centre, with his head bandaged and swollen face, holds up his arm which is already in a sling. He was searching in the rubble of his home, he tells us, when he had a fall. At the Hospital de la Renaissance in Port-au-Prince, at the foot of the cathedral, which had been ripped apart, wounds are still being dressed, more than a fortnight after the earthquake which shook Haïti. Thirty Cuban doctors out of the four hundred aid-workers present over the entire territory, are deployed there. The squad of volunteers has been reinforced since the earthquakes, notably by two hundred Haitian doctors who were trained for free at the latino-américaine school of medicine (Elam). "We’ve been on the spot since the 12th of January, when we started to bring help," recalls Doctor Adriana Pomeda, leader of the aid squad. "Since then we’ve no longer been counting the hours we work." Operating, saving lives, searching for the wounded, and note well, the medical corps hasn’t had a day off work since the earthquake. Under the porch roof, the operating theatre is on stand-by today, having functioned at top speed. All the beds in the rural hospital, which is opposite the official building (still intact), are full "because patients in a state of shock cannot tolerate being confined any longer" explains Adriana Pomeda. The crowding over the first few days has subsided a little. We are beginning to take stock, and the short and long term consequences of the material damage and especially, human losses, are beginning to be recorded. "The country is destroyed, the hospitals have collapsed and the work looks difficult," warns Olga Maria Delgado, now Chief of Medical Assistance from the La Croix-des-bouquets Crisis Centre (on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince) where the capital’s fourth, Cuban, rural hospital has been set up.

The future is uncertain, daily life having already been precarious

Having been in the area for twenty-six weeks, the aid worker was at her post when the four cyclones hit the country in 2008. For many Haïtians, she recognizes, the future is uncertain, since their daily life was already precarious. Teams of psychotherapists are at work, but the "number of traumatised people is so great that this won’t be adequate," she explains, her voice drowned by the cries of a female amputee on whom they have been lavishing care. The medical co-operation between Cuba and Haïti began in 1998, after hurricane George came through. "In the centres for diagnoses of all types, the care is free," explains Olga Maria Delgado. "Moreover we continue to put pressure on to reduce prices, but generally speaking the Haitian health system insists on payment and, since the population is very poor, few people have the means to access it." Considering the poverty of the public hospitals and the lack of personnel and medicine, the tariffs usually set were in place before the earthquake and constituted a major handicap for the majority of Haïtians who didn’t not even get access to the health centres any more. Even so, Olga Maria Delgado insists, ‘It is very important to practice prevention and sanitary education as regards hygiene, to prevent infections and diseases." So it is essential, she went on that "the aid is substantial and long-term."

All the health professionals are emphasizing that the aftermath of the emergency doesn’t end the day after the catastrophe. Especially since those injured in the earthquake are seriously wounded. At the hospital de la Renaissance, as in the other health establishments in the capital, amputations represented nearly 90% of the surgery undertaken. Before, the majority of the population had no jobs, but after all these amputations have so affected people, they will have no opportunity to work at all, fears the Haïtian doctor, François Frantz, trained at Elam. Taking on these handicapped people is already, clearly, one of the great challenges to emerge. It is believed here that ‘the events’ of the 12th January will lead to a complete reorganization of the health system. "It’s back to the drawing board to allow a new Haïti to be created," pleads François Frantz. For the moment, what keeps us clinging on "is the fellowship and sharing," reassures Adriana Pemeda, "after the initial sorrow we see parents and children going back home today or at least finding each other again."

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