It’s sometimes assumed that hospitals can use any medical supplies that are donated to them. However, the lack of amenities that are taken for granted in the U.S. can prove problematic for using even the most basic items in developing countries such as Haiti.
Tracey Proulx was reminded of this in 2019 when she was asked to train medical staff on how to use an electric breast pump at Justinien University Hospital, one of Konbit Sante’s partner healthcare facilities in Cap-Haitien. Clean water is not always readily accessible, and the nation’s electric power grid is prone to frequent blackouts. So instead, she suggested that she conduct training on manual expression of breast milk.
“You always have your hands, and you don’t need special equipment,” she said. “So I went to Haiti with nothing but a hand-expression video and a breast model.”
At first, the head physician and head nurse of the JUH pediatric unit had to be convinced that manual expression would be a more practical and effective method of training. But by end of the weeklong session, the entire medical staff was enthusiastically participating.
“They really wanted to learn and do the right thing,” Tracey said. “It was more than I ever could have expected.”
Tracey is a Registered Nurse and certified lactation consultant in the neonatal intensive care unit of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. She has made three trips to Haiti with medical teams from CCMC that were hosted by Konbit Sante to conduct training in the JUH pediatrics unit—two on CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) and one on breast-feeding support.
She has an associate’s degree in nursing and a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition, but decided to forgo becoming a registered dietician in favor of becoming a Registered Nurse and later an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant after she experienced difficulty breastfeeding her two boys.
“There are so many women out there who just give up,” she said. “They receive a lot of misinformation, and they are pressured into using formula. I wanted to share what I had learned and be able to help other moms.”
In 2016, Tracey decided to join a team from CCMC that was conducting training sessions on neonatal care at JUH. She was shocked by the fact that, as in the U.S., so many women in Haiti use formula instead of breastfeeding their children.
“A lot of well-intentioned people donate formula. But mothers don’t necessarily have clean water or a place to store it once they make it,” she said. “We all know that in an environment like Haiti, you need to do everything you can to boost a baby’s immune system, and breast milk is life-saving in that setting.”
Tracey’s latest visit to Haiti was as part of the last group of volunteers hosted by Konbit Sante before travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. State Department. She is eager to return once the restrictions are lifted to continue to train and educate others.
“Haitians are so lovely and so gracious. I think everybody who goes to Haiti falls in love with it,” she said. “They have so little, but they are such proud people, and they want to learn.”