A call to action
Despite these conditions, there are reasons for hope. Various groups, both from the international community and locally have mobilized to respond to the pandemic.
International health care organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health, and local groups such as GHESKIO, the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, and others have been collaborating with the Haitian Ministry of Health to devise and strategic plans and deploy valuable resources with the common goal of saving lives from COVID-19.
GHESKIO, for example, under Dr. Pape’s leadership, currently has one of the three COVID-19 testing centers in the country. It also has two COVID-19 treatment centers in full operation, in Port-au-Prince, the capital city, managing and treating 520 patients with confirmed COVID-19. GHESKIO, which has been in the front lines of previous major infectious disease outbreaks,13 has trained about 200 clinicians from both public and private health care institutions to care for COVID-19 patients.
Doctors Without Borders has been investing in efforts to support the Ministry of Health by converting and renovating its Burn Center in Drouillard, a small section of the city of Cité Soleil, one of the country’s biggest slums. In May, as part of its COVID-19 response, it launched a 20-bed capacity center that can accommodate up to 45 beds to care for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Partners in Health, the Boston-based nonprofit health care organization cofounded in 1987 by American anthropologist and infectious disease specialist, Paul Farmer, MD, and the largest nonprofit health care provider in Haiti, also joined the Ministry of Health through its national and public health efforts to tackle COVID-19 in Haiti. Partners in Health, through its sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, has pioneered the movement of diagnosing and treating people with HIV-AIDS and TB. Since the late 1990s, its efforts against both infectious diseases have helped 15,000 HIV-positive patients begin and remain on treatment. And every year, 1,500 TB patients have started treatment on the path to a cure.
Early in the pandemic in Haiti, Partners in Health, through its state-of-the-art 300-bed university hospital (Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais de Mirebalais), was the first to open a COVID-19 center with a 20-bed capacity and has been caring for COVID-19 patients since then. In June, Partners in Health supported and inaugurated the renovation of the internal medicine department at one of its affiliated community hospitals, Hôpital Saint-Nicolas de Saint Marc. That department will have a 24-bed capacity that can extend up to 36 beds to manage and treat COVID-19 patients.
In total, currently, 26 COVID-19 centers with a capacity of 1,011 beds are available to serve, manage, and treat Haitian patients affected with COVID-19. But are those efforts enough? No.
Haiti, as a weak state even before COVID-19, continues to need funding from the international community so it can strengthen its health care infrastructure to be effective and strong in fighting against COVID-19.
In addition, we would like to see preventive initiatives implemented on the local level. Our family has taken on a role that, we think, could help conquer COVID-19 if others followed suit on a large scale.
As part of our contribution in tackling COVID-19, the two of us have launched a small-scale community experiment. We have educated our family in Delmas about COVID-19 and subsequently launched an awareness campaign in the community. We dispatched small groups that go door to door in the community to educate neighbors about the disease in an effort to help them understand that COVID-19 is real and it is normal for people that feel they may have the disease to seek medical care. This approach helps suppress the transmission of the virus. This pilot project could be reproduced in several other communities. It is easy to operate, rapid, effective, and cost-free. The community has been very receptive to and grateful for our efforts.
Like other countries across the world, Haiti was not ready for COVID-19. But we are confident that, with help from the international community, organizations such as GHESKIO,14 and with due diligence on the local level, we are strong and resilient enough to beat COVID. We must act together – quickly.
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13. Feliciano I and Kargbo C. “As COVID cases surge, Haiti’s Dr. Pape is on the front line again.” PBS NewsHour Weekend. 2020 Jun 13.
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Mr. Dorcela is a senior medical student at Faculté des Sciences de la Santé Université Quisqueya in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He also is a medical intern at Unité de Médecine Familiale Hôpital Saint Nicolas in Saint-Marc. Mr. Dorcela has no disclosures. Mr. St. Jean, who is Mr. Dorcela’s brother, is also a senior medical student at Faculté des Sciences de la Santé Université Quisqueya in Port-au-Prince. He has no disclosures.