Our View on Public Health in Haiti

Updated: Apr 29

Public Health is a key component to strengthening families and communities.

Did you know that Haiti is THE poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? Or that six million Haitians live on less than $2 per day? Or that only 4.4% of government funding is committed to healthcare (compare that to 50% in the U.S.). It’s no wonder that Haitians are extremely vulnerable to life-threatening illness, infectious diseases and other factors that make their life expectancy one of the lowest in the world at around 64 years (neighboring Dominican Republic is 74 years and in the U.S it is 78.5 years).

We share all of this to say, there is a great deal of need and opportunity to improve access to healthcare in Haiti. With your generous support, Overture International and ESPWA are working to improve public health by focusing on three key areas - prevention, promotion, and protection.

We’d like to share with you our reasoning behind this focus so let’s begin with Overture and ESPWA’s rationale for choosing to focus on public health versus primary care.

We believe education is the key to improving the long-term health of Haitians and helping them build independence and sustainability in the healthcare system. Proper prenatal care, nutrition for children and adolescents, and understanding proper hygiene and sanitation practices are all topics that many of us take for granted, but in Haiti there is still a significant gap in the understanding and adoption of best practices in these areas.

These issues alone lead to major instances and outbreaks of preventable illness in the region, which is why Overture and ESPWA are investing resources, education and support to equip community leaders and parents to lead by example when it comes to safer and more effective preventative practices.

Another key factor in Overture and ESPWA’s decision to focus on public health rather than primary care is that, despite the poor health of Haitians, there are actually a significant number of clinics and primary care resources available in Haiti. Most of these are provided by NGOs as well as local healthcare providers. So, for us to start another clinic would likely result in duplicating services, and potentially in hurting the local provider’s practice.

As with all the work we undertake, our focus is on helping Haitians become independent and self-sustaining. This includes supporting local, Haitian healthcare providers. Additionally, we must encourage and educate communities to trust these providers and the care they offer. Like many issues in Haiti’s history, healthcare has been another area rife with governmental corruption and malfeasance. Overture and ESPWA help identify the trustworthy NGOs and local providers and refer community members to them as appropriate.

Finally, let’s discuss the three areas on which Overture and ESPWA are focusing: prevention, promotion and protection.

Overture and ESPWA work to bring awareness and training to community members, leaders and families. We help them to identify health problems. Ultimately, prevention IS education because even if Haitians have access to the many clinics that exist, they often can’t afford them. Prevention is focused on more of a global view in that we train leaders and local authorities while facilitating resources that empower communities to live healthier, safer lives.

Overture and ESPWA also focus on promoting health and wellbeing to empower individuals to take responsibility over their own health. We focus on raising awareness around basic best practices like hygiene, sanitation and nutrition because awareness is critical in developing independent, sustainable communities. We promote services available within communities by linking families with these resources. And we make local clinics aware when there’s a medical need.

It may seem obvious to us and our culture to be protectors of our children, but in Haiti, there is a tradition of painting from a distance. Overture and ESPWA are educating parents on how to become protectors of their own children. This includes everything from the basics like immunizations and regular checkups to the more complex issues like family planning. Protection zeros in on the family unit and educating and equipping parents to effectively lead their families.

Overture and ESPWA want to strengthen the Haitian healthcare system by empowering Haitian resources. So, we believe it’s critical to implement and promote healthcare in Haiti using Haitians! For example, you may know that we have a clinic at ESPWA that was initially designed as a primary care facility. However, we realized very quickly that we needed to pivot because:

  • the clinic was taking away from the Haitian economy and their ownership of healthcare

  • the clinic required significant foreign resources, which goes against our philosophy of creating independence

  • the clinic was inward focused instead of outward (isolated to only serving one community - ESPWA - versus using the facility for multiple communities)

  • we are not experts in healthcare, but we are experts in education!

Today, the clinic at ESPWA is being used for:

  • training social workers and nurses to train others

  • a point of reference for our young adult empowerment program

  • training children from the school on public health

  • mobile clinics for the Ministry of Health so they can have a location from which to give children immunizations. (We also open it up to other special clinics or medical missions who need a temporary facility from which to operate.)

Your continued support makes it possible for Overture International and ESPWA to equip and empower these communities to build up their healthcare infrastructure in a way that is independent of foreign support and sustainable for generations to come.

To better understand our approach to public health, we’ve included below a real-life example of how Overture and ESPWA responded to a medical crisis:

Tragically, on January 29th of this year, in the community of Madame Combe (in Les Cayes where ESPWA resides), an oil lamp exploded in the home of the Simon family. There were seven children from two different families, between the ages of seven and 20, in the home at the time of the explosion, all of whom are students at our ESPWA schools. Only one child escaped the fire without being burned. The oldest boy was critically burned.

Because the emergency services in this community are extremely lacking, the children did not receive immediate medical attention. It took approximately 48 hours from the time of the accident for the children to receive hospital care. Our team hit the ground running as soon as we were made aware of the situation. Although we did not provide direct medical services, Overture’s role was essential in ensuring each child received the appropriate medical attention relative to their degree of burns.

As you can imagine, the severity of the burns required a high level of care. As a result, we called on numerous community partners (including the government and NGOs) and utilized all available resources, including fulfilling financial commitments on the frontend before the hospitals would accept the children as patients. Thanks to the fervent coordination facilitated by Overture and ESPWA, the children were able to benefit from medical services in four different hospitals spanning three geographic departments of Haiti.

On March 4th, four of the children with less severe burns were released from Bonne Fin Hospital and returned to the care of their family. Just recently, the oldest and most severe burn case, was transferred from Mirebalais Hospital to Bonne Fin Hospital because his condition had improved to a point where his wounds could now be managed at a hospital closer to his family and community. Sadly, one of the children, age 13, did not survive the burns and passed shortly after being transported to a hospital in Port au Prince.

Our team has and will continue to follow up with these families to ensure the children are receiving the proper care and nutrition they need for full recoveries. We’ve hired nurses to support these families with medical follow-up and our social workers are providing psychological support to the children and their parents around the trauma they’ve incurred. Our support will continue for an undetermined length of time.

In summary, this case demonstrates how our focus on public health can help to prevent future medical crises due to lack of education as well as protect and aid families with medical needs through coordination of available resources.

Although our training didn’t take place until after the accident occurred, we’ve now educated both the parents and the children on the potential dangers associated with gasoline, preventing future accidents. This is an example of our prevention component.

Leveraging our local partnerships while linking these families to available community resources is an example of our promotion component.

And the continued medical and psychological attention our team is providing to these families is an example of our protection component.

When you support Overture, you enable our team to strengthen families and communities with Public Health education and help them avoid a crisis such as this one!


42 views0 comments