I could smell the fresh leather and dust as soon as I stepped inside the room. It reminded me of the old cobbler’s shop we would visit as kids in Tanzania. Dad would take us there to have our old shoes mended. The cobbler would even paint over the large stitchings to make the shoes look like new again.
This room looked similar, except it was the area designated at Justinien University Hospital to make prosthetic implants for patients with special needs. Making best from waste, they use old shoes, pieces of wood, leftover rubber from tires, and wires to make an assortment of prosthetic implants. The skilled men who work on the prostheses use table lamps and head torches as they carefully fabricate each piece.
There were several patients in the waiting area that day, notably a young boy about 12 years of age. He seemed to be waiting on a fitting for his leg. He was laughing and engaged in conversation with the others in the waiting room. I smiled at the sight of it, as it warmed my heart to see a community of people calmly and patiently waiting for their pieces.
Before this moment, I had only seen prostheses that were factory made. This was the first time I actually saw people using modest materials and tools to develop functional prostheses. It was certainly a humbling moment as I toured the hospital with the medical director during my trip to Haiti in November.
Justinien University Hospital, one of our key partners in Cap-Haitien, was built in 1890. It is now a teaching hospital and one of the largest hospitals in the country. Without a doubt, it remains the hospital of choice for those with no means to pay for healthcare services. The hospital serves a population of approximately 1 million people in the Northern Department of Haiti.
My work at Konbit Sante has taught me even more about the dire need of basic healthcare services for children in Haiti. According to the World Health Organization, basic health services reach between 40% to 60% of the population. Only 1 child out of 2 is fully vaccinated, which leads to further health complications in adulthood. In terms of infectious diseases, there are approximately 1,400 new HIV infections among children ages 0 to 19 each year. Although the number of children receiving antiretroviral treatment has increased over the years, the disease continues to spread in Haiti.
We continue to work closely with all our healthcare partners in Cap-Haitien. All of them serve children, and three have pediatrics services designated for the care and treatment of children. The facilities also have an extensive community health program in which they actively conduct immunization campaigns to encourage newborns and children to get vaccinated. The work of the community health workers is not easy, as they travel far to rural locations to encourage families to bring their children to the vaccination campaigns.
This holiday season is particularly difficult due to the pandemic, which has halted much progress all over the world, including in Haiti. As a healthcare professional who predominantly works in Haiti, I remain concerned about the allocation, shipment, and distribution of much-needed COVID-19 vaccines in the country. According to a piece published earlier this month, Haiti is one of six countries in the Caribbean that will receive low-cost COVID-19 vaccines in March. I remain hopeful that our Haitian healthcare partners will receive the vaccines and will be able to vaccinate everyone, including children.
Until then, we will continue to work with our partners as they support the children who come to their hospitals and clinics. Your contribution will go a long way in ensuring there is sufficient financial support in the new year. If you haven’t done so already, please visit Konbit Sante’s website to make a donation.
Truly in our case, every dollar counts. If all you can give is $1 or $10, we will gladly accept it. Every bit of generosity will go a long way toward a making a difference in the life of a patient in Haiti. Konbit Sante is grateful for your support this year, and we look forward to more of it next year.
As you get ready for the holidays and figure out your socially-distanced and virtual celebrations, I wish you well. I hope and pray you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy during this holiday season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Konbit Sante.
Rupal Ramesh Shah