Vanessa Beauport conducting an eye exam.
Vanessa Beauport conducting an eye exam.
Vanessa Beauport conducting an eye exam.

By Vania Andre

After the earthquake, Dr. Carmelle Marie Bellefleur traveled to Haiti and saw firsthand the overwhelming need for healthcare. In 2010, Bellefleur and three fellow nurse educators founded Promoting Health In Haiti (PHH), a nonprofit dedicated to improving health and wellness for the people of Haiti by educating highly-skilled nurses.


Last month, the Haitian government inaugurated the organization’s Family Nursing Program (FNP) – a first for the country where there are currently no nurse practitioners.  This title was an unfamiliar one for the Haitian government, Bellefleur says. They didn’t know the types of services they provide, the level of education needed, or how to compensate them.

“Many nurses in Haiti only have a high school diploma or associates degree,” according to PHH. “Because 90 percent of Haiti’s healthcare is provided by nurses, it’s important these that these professionals receive an adequate education.

“PHH is helping these individuals receive a masters level of education, as well as create a self-sustaining program that will allow them to educate future nurses.”

The program allows PHH to train nurses to work like doctors, Bellefleur says. The nurse practitioners will examine patients, order tests, write prescriptions and consult with doctors on cases.

Studies show it’s more cost effective to train nurse practitioners that provide comparable care to doctors, than training physicians. PHH estimates their nurse practitioners will see anywhere from 2,000 – 4,000 patients annually.

Following the earthquake, Haiti’s true need for health care reform was more than just apparent – it was shockingly clear.

The public hospital in Haiti had about 100 beds, Bellefleur says, and the rest were private. Even for the poor who could manage to be treated at a public hospital, there were still challenges ahead.

“For every bed, there’s three patients,” she says. On top of that, you have to pay for your own “pillow, sheets, intravenous fluid and tubing.”

Only those with money have a fighting chance.

“The Haitian population is begging for healthcare,” Bellefleur says. “Nurse practitioners are a fast track to providing care for thousands of families in Haiti.”

A nursing school on every block

It’s not surprising to hear that in Haiti there’s practically a nursing school on every block.

It’s a job that offers security, Bellefleur says. Young people in Haiti know this is a profession where they can earn a good living. The problem, however arises when the government can’t accommodate the population looking to earn a nursing degree.

The Haitian government operates five public nursing schools in the country. One in Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Cap-Haïtien, Jeremie and Gonaïves, all which accept a little more than 200 students a year – collectively.

To supplement the lack of seats available at the national universities, hundreds of private nursing schools have sprung up throughout the country.  More than 400 nursing schools exist in Haiti, Bellefleur says. Of those schools, only 31 are recognized by the government.

Prospective students are forced to pay for private schools, which sometimes turn out to be scams. For example, there are “boutique nursing schools” that operate out of the instructor’s kitchen. Some of these instructors aren’t even nurses themselves.

“Many students will never take the board,” Bellefleur says, “and will have to start from scratch with an appropriate school.”

Although Haiti offers public care, the hospitals are not free, FNP Shirley Dieuveille says. Patients are offered care at reduced prices. However, “in some hospitals in Haiti, money is the priority. If you do not have money to pay for services, or to buy medications or even to pay the cash that they ask for at the entrance of the hospital, you will not receive care.

“You cannot talk about promotion and prevention if health care is not available for at least half of the population.”

On May 15 PHH will celebrate 14 Haitian students, who completed their first year of the nursing program, with a white lab coat ceremony in New York City.

For more information or to attend, CLICK HERE

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