The clinic building where the Friends of the Children of Haiti team worked during their September visit. Courtesy photo
Rita Patchett shows a colorful painting she brought home from Jacmel, Haiti last month. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos resident Rita Patchett spent eight days in September in Jacmel in southeast Haiti as part of a Friends of the Children of Haiti medical team that saw some 2,000 patients in just six days.
Patchett said the September team was comprised of 14 people, including five doctors, a dentist, a surgeon, four nurses and three intake volunteers.
“It’s kind of an outdoor clinic. There’s a three story building and on the bottom floor they have some examination rooms and the pharmacy. We were outside with a roof over us in case it rained which provided a nice breeze and shade,” she said. “It was very hot. The temperature all week long was between 79 and 90 with humidity at 100 percent.”
Patchett said the people come to the clinic from the surrounding area and have to do a lot of walking to get there. She said they are very poor and don’t have the infrastructure the United States has.
“They don’t have anyone to make repairs at their houses when they need it. They have to pay for all their schooling even at the elementary level. There aren’t many jobs so it’s hard,” she said.
The team met in Miami, Flor., and flew from there to Port Au Prince and then chartered a little five-person plane from Port Au Prince to Jacmel, Patchett said. Then a van took them to the clinic from the airport which she said was about the size of the Los Alamos airport. Her immediate reaction on arrival was that “there were a lot of people wanting a lot of things”.
“They just want to sell you a lot of things. It was a little overwhelming but most of the people were very kind and very sweet. They were very, very appreciative of anything we would do,” Patchett said.
She said treatment for the adults was primarily for diabetes and high blood pressure and for the babies, a lot of malnourishment and lots of scabies.
“Scabies is like a little mite that gets under your skin and it gets infected. Usually it’s a little more under control because you can go in the water and they die but I don’t think they’re going in the water as much anymore. There’s a lot of unrest in the country and I don’t know if that’s part of it or not. You can tell that they have to go somewhere and get their water and carry it home,” she said.
Patchett said there’s still a lot of damage from the hurricanes and the earthquakes Haiti has experienced.
“They really can’t get a break,” she said, sadly.
She said the people are “beautiful and colorful and sweet”. In fact the strong colors everywhere prompted her to purchase a striking painting as a souvenir to take home with her. The area near the clinic is on the rocky coastline and there are no sandy beaches, she said.
“I really liked the riding around because it’s a little chaotic. You’re sitting in the back of a truck riding along and the roads are full of people and cars and motorcycles but it was awesome. They use their horns a lot because they don’t want people to run in front of them or anything,” she said.
Patchett noted that there are about six clinics a year but that another group of Americans won’t be going down until January or February.
“It’s a lot of work. It was exhausting. It didn’t feel like we did a lot at the time but then when you counted up how many people we saw you realized how much was done,” she said.
The clinic was attempting to provide the patients with enough medication to last until the net team visits. Patchett said even people who were fit and healthy looking would sometimes have extremely high blood pressure. She said she didn’t know what kind of diabetes education people were receiving but that their diet is very starchy with lots of rice, beans and plantains with not a lot of protein and some fish.
Patchett said the people would come to the clinic and spend the night outside waiting in line to get in.
‘They would be dressed in their Sunday best in the most amazing colors and some of them would carry boom boxes that played a kind of French rap,” she noted.
Patchett said it was heartbreaking to see for example a little baby that’s eight months old and weighs eight pounds.
“That was the hard part. They try to do a lot of breastfeeding education but some reason the women don’t want to. They think that formula is better but they can’t get it so they’re giving their babies sugar water,” she said. “They also need some education for basic sanitation as well as blood pressure and diabetes.”
Patchett said when it was time to leave she was exhausted. She said Jacmel doesn’t have reliable electricity.
“We didn’t always have electricity. We had a generator and a solar system, but there was always something going on. When it’s 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity, it’s very difficult to sleep. That was hard,” she said.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the vast majority of the population lives below the poverty line, often surviving on less than $2 a day. Many Haitian parents cannot afford to feed, clothe or educate their children. Most medical care is provided by groups from other countries like the Friends of the Children of Haiti and it is estimated that 60 percent of Haitians lack access to basic healthcare services. FOTCOH brings medical care to some 15,000 Haitians each year/
Supplies for the clinic can be mailed to the Friends of the Children of Haiti at any time. Information is available at https://fotcoh.org/supplies-needed-for-clinic/.
More information is available at fotcoh.org including how to volunteer and donate to the organization.