By J.O. Haselhoef | Contributor
Health care professionals of the Haiti Health Network (HHN) met online July 8 to address how President Jovenel Moises’ assassination might impact the health care sector — particularly in light of the National Vaccine Rollout Plan released from the Haiti Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) the week prior.
These frontline professionals represented organizations from Hope for Haiti, Hospital Lumiere Bonne Finn Sud and Care 2 Communities among many others throughout Haiti and the United States. They slid into work mode quickly — one indicated their clinic is barricaded while another said their hospital is fully operational and receiving patients.
One by one, each gave updates including their supplies of PPE, ability to get oxygen and whether doctors could safely travel to their place of work.
Dr. Marlene Adrien with Mission of Hope in Titanyen, north of Port au Prince, said its clinic is closed as many staff travel near Cite Soleil to work and they’re unsure of safety. People are nervous, especially healthcare workers after a nurse was shot in an ambulance last week.
Barbara Campbell, executive director of HHN, organized the meeting from her office in Twinsburg, Ohio.
“I was reminded of the pure value of allowing people to share and hear from others [when] you are dealing with so much uncertainty and truly fear,” Campbell said.
Gaining insight into health care providers
HHN was founded when the Cap Haitien Health Network merged with The Dalton Foundation, founded by entrepreneur A. Ray Dalton. It registered in 2019 as a Haitian nonprofit.
HHN creates connectivity and collaboration between all types of health care organizations and professionals in Haiti, including those already networked by financial contract.
Dr. Ted Kaplan, founder of the legacy group in Cap Haitien, was among many providers who recognized the gaps and duplication that occurred in the country’s overall health care. For example, a volunteer specialty doctor could visit Haiti but no one would know about it, or she might end up spending her time doing primary care instead of the highly specialized surgery for which she was trained, Kaplan said.
HHN needed to know the who, what, where and how of all health care professionals to solve those issues, and so it mapped the frontline, small rural and mid-size regional clinics and referral hospitals throughout all ten of Haiti’s departments.
In partnership with Haiti’s Ministry of Health, the five HHN staff in Haiti visited and collected data — from the 1,300 health care facilities — on the access and possession of medicines, electricity, equipment and staffing. They placed much of the information on HHN’s website and programmed it specifically for mobile phones to make it accessible to both patients and professionals.
It offers regional details for COVID resources — such as testing locations and PPE supplies —
in addition to health care by location and medical specialty.
Campbell, who trained as a pharmacist and worked as a medical director in Haiti, sought a way for health care providers to share knowledge and support to one another.
Pre-pandemic, HHN ran in-person conferences in Haiti. Campbell now hosts monthly nine online meetings and six webinars as well as the occasional group conversation like the July 8 session. She encourages new participation, particularly in light of the questions providers have about vaccinating for COVID.
Prior to one of those online meetings, a community group from Seguin, where there are no medical services nearby, connected with Campbell. The Seguin leaders shared that they had educated residents about mask wearing and handwashing.
Campbell introduced them to HHN’s database manager to capture their information and invited them to a bimonthly network meeting. She followed up the next day, as she did to all participants, emailing meeting notes and handouts about COVID in French, English and Kreyol.
Rounding out the health care picture
Conversations with providers brought to light the difficulties of being one of the 2,000 medical professionals that HHN estimates work in Haiti.
It was as if, “The Haitian doctors are practicing medicine with their hands tied behind their back,” Campbell said, “but they’re still supposed to see 150 patients.”
HHN has since provided equipment to 200 doctors, 350 nurses, and 54 facilities in three northern departments. Each provider kit includes instruments, such as a stethoscope and blood glucose monitor, to help accurately diagnose basic infections, hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
With the new equipment, the 225 recipient providers were able to see 58 percent more patients, according to HHN survey results. More distribution kits are slated to roll out shortly.
HHN staff found similar gaps occurred at facilities. “You quickly notice that two people are asking you for an ultrasound machine, and they’re literally a mile apart,” Campbell said.
Working with equipment suppliers, HHN found standardized apparatus — like wall-mounted otoscopes and blood pressure machines— to donate 25 small to mid-sized regional clinics, also in northern Haiti.
The intention is to limit equipment downtime that affects patient care, Campbell said.
The equipment is all the same model, so if a medical team encounters a problem with one, HHN can make adjustments to all. Staff also ensures additional replacement pieces of that same equipment are in Haiti and provides no-cost repairs.
Feedback from users help HHN staff continuously tweak its programs. Oddly, getting major medical equipment into Haiti is not nearly the biggest challenge for HHN staff.
“It’s to get back surveys from our users,” Campbell said.
Both Campbell and Kaplan talk about growth for the organization. For Campbell, it’s scaling up its efforts to reach providers and facilities in all departments with education, collaboration and equipment.
It might be managing COVID vaccines that brings health care providers together through HHN.
“It’s a long, slow haul, but you have to be ready. You have to cheer the little successes when you get them,” Campbell said, “otherwise, you could get discouraged.”