V.I. charity opens free clinic in Port-au-Prince
Published: July 19, 2010
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
Six months after an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, local nonprofit Haiti Community Support has opened a permanent free clinic — largely funded with V.I. donations — on the outskirts of the city.
The permanent clinic is the culmination of work that started three days after the Jan. 12 quake, when Haiti Community Support co-director Mathilde Wilson, a native of Haiti who now lives on St. Croix, and local emergency medical technician Peter Dybing arrived in Port-au-Prince with a mission of starting a clinic to treat the injured.
The following day, Dybing got on his knees under a tree in a tent city that had sprung up on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in the Bon Repos neighborhood, near where some of Wilson’s family members live, and began pulling medical supplies from his bag to treat people.
The grassroots effort at opening a clinic in the midst of the temblor’s fallout started to take form as donations poured in. Tents and more medical supplies were purchased, while Haitian doctors and nurses were hired for the effort, gradually replacing volunteers.
Haiti Community Support has been setting up its mobile clinic daily, reaching out to those who had little access to care, living in tent cities on Port-au-Prince’s outskirts, Wilson said.
As time went by, the patients with traumatic injuries from the quake were gradually replaced by patients seeking care for illnesses that are a result of living outside, without proper shelter or sanitation, Wilson said.
“They have a lot of need for medical help,” she said in a phone interview from Haiti last week.
Right now, she said, doctors are seeing a lot of children with pneumonia, impetigo and other infections, along with a number of malaria cases.
“They are dying for lack of primary care,” she said.
Although there have been times the mobile clinic saw as many as 200 patients a day, the number of patients each day now typically runs between 80 to 120, she said.
Recently, Haiti Community Support was able to acquire a long-term lease for a house in the same area where it has been conducting its mobile clinics.
“It needed some repair, but we are lucky to find a good-shape building,” Wilson said.
Some work was done on the building and July 12 — the six-month anniversary of the quake — the doors to the permanent clinic opened, Wilson said.
“Many people came in, happy to have a clean place to come,” she said.
The house is more comfortable for patients than the mobile clinic, she said. It comprises eight rooms, including a room where pregnant women are treated, a room for small babies and a laboratory that will conduct some basic blood, urine and stool tests, she said. The wish list for the clinic includes money for an
The clinic has its own generator, along with an inverter to charge batteries, she said.
“We buy equipment and materials locally,” Wilson said, adding that doing so is part of Haiti Community Support’s mission.
The nonprofit has 22 people helping run the clinic, including two doctors, four nurses, laboratory technicians, and support staff. They are Haitians, Wilson said.
“People want to have some work, not a handout — like a little package of food. That’s not going to help long-term,” she said.
Donations from the territory — including a $25,000 donation from the V.I. Relief Fund and the promise of $20,000 more — have helped get the permanent clinic off the ground, she said.
Wilson said that, six months after the quake, the devastation still is overwhelming. Many are still homeless, and some people are starting to give up hope, she said.
“I think people are really, really hopeless,” she said. “They’re not seeing anything. The rubble is still there. People really get down where they don’t know if they’re going to see any change.”
Bruce Wilson, Mathilde Wilson’s husband and co-director of Haiti Community Support, said that they are not sure how they are going to sustain the clinic.
“We don’t know. We hope we can. You do this kind of work partly out of faith. We don’t have long-range funding,” he said.
Haiti Community Support started several years ago, and most of its work before the quake centered on improving health care, the quality of life and education in the remote village of Au Centre, about 130 miles from Port-au-Prince.
That work continues.
Bruce Wilson said that, as Haiti gradually fell from the headlines after the earthquake, donations also started to drop off.
“It’s nothing like before. The donations have slowed to a trickle,” Bruce Wilson said. “I think it’s because people get fatigued by how horrible it is there, how tough the conditions are there. Maybe people feel hopeless about Haiti. Haiti is a big problem, and it’s not going to go away quickly. It takes long-term resolve.”
He said part of Haiti Community Support’s focus is to avoid getting lost in the “big picture” of what is happening in the country.
“Our focus is to try to make life better for people by taking care of one person at a time,” he said.
For more information on Haiti Community Support, go to www.haitisupport.org or call
— Contact Joy Blackburn at 774-8772 ext. 455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.