Project Medishare | Emory students gain perspective of the medical resources and needs in Haiti’s Central Plateau
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Emory students gain perspective of the medical resources and needs in Haiti’s Central Plateau

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By Constance Harrell

HINCHE, Haiti—Meeting the Hinche commune’s minister of health was both inspiring and revealing of how much of the international medical work connects with the local health workers. Kathleen, Jen, and Matt, three Gyn/Oncology doctors from MD Anderson who have been running our OB/Gyn clinics on this trip, are starting a new trip in conjunction with Project Medishare to focus on obstetric and gynecologic surgical and clinical needs. It’s been tricky setting up the trip to figure out what the community needs, and what is currently available so that we can best work within the local health system and expand their potential from within as much as possible. Costs are a big factor too; if we bring our own anesthesia machine, CONE or LEAPS machines, and nursing assistants, we need start preparing yesterday.

The Health Minister, Dr. Raphael, ushered us into his sparse but nonetheless clean and air-conditioned office to discuss why we came. A posh fellow in a suit, drastically different from the often half-clothed patients we see just 30 km away, Dr. Raphael spoke to us in perfect French and Spanish, which was eloquently translated by Project Medishare’s Program Coordinator Gaby into English to ensure we could all understand. Our conversation, which was a repeat of conversations held yesterday with other Hinch VIPs, confirmed that we would be welcome to work in their hospital for a week this spring.

But to put together a surgical trip, we can’t just know we’re welcome – we need to know every detail in advance to ensure that when we come, we do good, not harm. How many patients with cervical or breast cancer do they see, who treats them and where, what screening is done, what instruments and machines are used, what are the conditions in the operating room? To figure out these details, we met with the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Prince. We found him in the hospital seeing patients in clean but crowded and poorly lit rooms ventilated only by fans and windows. He gave us a better sense of what is needed and what is available, but still more needs to be learned.

I write this post in order to raise awareness about how hard it is to pull this kind of trip off. One week takes hundreds of emails and telephone calls, and months of hard work in addition to the thousands of dollars to treat the patients we see who are so desperately in need of care, and expanded access to care.

Constance “Bene” Harrell is a first-year medical student at Emory. This is her first trip to Haiti.