Howard University > Howard University Health Sciences in Haiti 2012

Howard, NOAH, HAA Bring Hope to the Near Hopeless

Impoverished children stand outside a home made of mud and sticks, typical construction for many homes in the Dérac. Howard and NOAH provided medical two days of medical care for residents, some who had not seen a doctor in decades.
RAC, Haiti (June 28) – Every underdeveloped country has a place like this one, a desolate community mired in grinding poverty so deep that the world seems to have forgotten or dismissed it as unworthy or incapable  of salvation.  It’s just that when you’re here, the despair and isolation are so incredibly real.

There is no electricity here in Dérac, a tiny community of about 2,000 just across the bay from the city of Fort-Liberté.  There is no water in Dérac either, except from the Fort-Liberté Bay.  There are roads, just bumpy, meandering stretches of dirt.  In fact, almost everything appears to be a mixture of dirt and dust or at least covered by it. 

Homes are either tiny, one-room concrete structures or sticks held together by mud and topped with rusted metal roofs.  There are small, though infrequent personal gardens.  A few animals, goats and chickens amble through the structures. 

There are no visible job opportunities, no apparent means of economic support.  Impoverished children beg newcomers for money in broken English.

Medical conditions are atrocious.  The only medical care is the two days annually that the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and the Haitian American Alliance donates through its medical mission.

Most people seldom see physicians.   One 70-year-old woman with a large growth on her neck said she had never seen a doctor in her life.  Children and men suffer from wide ranging dermatological problems, rashes, ringworm and other maladies that could be easily treated, if anybody ever showed up with medication, or if the residents could afford it.

Residents suffer and die from illnesses that could be easily treated by modern medicine.

Brian Rogers, 30, a fourth-year Howard medical student, spent a day treating residents of Dérac, patiently taking blood pressure readings, giving diagnosis and talking through an interpreter with mothers about their children.

“I was so overwhelmed,” said Rogers, a Durham, N.C., native who plans to be an anesthesiologist.  “You’re there and you realized no matter how much you did, it wasn’t going to make a dent in that community’s health care or all the things they need medically.  Yes, we helped some people, but it was like putting a Koolaid package in the ocean.  It’s not going to make it sweeter or change it at all.”

Dr. Nadine Vidor, a medical resident at Howard University Hospital, spent most of her day there working with the elderly.  She has been on medical missions before in impoverished communities in Nigeria.  She had seen poverty.  She had seen despair.  Still, Dérac touched her.  There was one child in particular.

“We had treated everybody and we were on the bus getting ready to leave,” she said.  “Earlier, part of the mission had given away all these soccer balls and soccer clothes and shoes.  This one boy got there late.  He came up to the bus and all he wanted was a ball.   We didn’t have anymore.

“He started crying and saying, ‘Please, just one ball.  One ball.’  I felt so bad.  Kids in the states have all these toys and all this boy wanted was one ball, any kind of ball.  Just a ball.”

Looking around, it’s hard to believe that Dérac was once a relatively prosperous community.  The bay in which it sits was once the site of the Caribbean’s largest sisal plantation.  The plant was used to make rope, and the U.S. Navy was one of the area’s biggest customers.   But when nylon was invented in 1935, it quickly replaced sisal for rope and the plantation went out of business. 

The community tried to retool by making baseballs, but former dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier had the plant moved to Port-au-Prince, and the community was doomed.

Dr. Steven Liverpool, 55, a long-time volunteer with the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, was one of the first doctors to set foot on Dérac.

He’s seen what in the U.S. would be minor infections have major effects on the people because of lack of treatment.

“You will see a lot of the young girls with one eye scarred because of conjunctivitis (pink eye),” he said.  “They’re eye has been damaged because it wasn’t treated.  I saw one woman with conjunctivitis with us just pouring out of her eyes.”

Probably the worst case was that of a woman who died after birth due to post-pardon sepsis, infection.

“It’s an infection after delivery, simple stuff,” said Liverpool, who practices in New York City.  “She died of infection because it wasn’t treated, and it wasn’t treated because there was nothing to treat it with.  It almost made me cry to think that this woman’s daughter grew up an orphan because of something so easy to treat.” 

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