Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It Takes a Disaster to Improve Medical Care in Haiti

I'm from New Orleans and have been studying the city in the five years since Hurricane Katrina hit.  One of the ongoing stories has been about how to restore and improve medical care in Post-Katrina New Orleans.  The immediate aftermath of Katrina saw many potential patients receiving care in the cities to which they had evacuated.  Not so in Haiti, where the doctors have come to the patients.

Two days ago, I went to the field hospital set up by Médecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) to see my housemate, Joris.  This was a hospital without walls, at least the kind that don't flap in a strong thunderstorm like the one that hit the day after my housemate suffered an injured shoulder in a motorcycle accident.  According to the statistics reported in an article last month in the Los Angeles Times, of 20, 000 surgeries from 2001 to 2008 performed by Doctors Without Borders in remote or impoverished areas such as Haiti, only 0.2 percent resulted in fatalities.  This demonstrates that such procedures can be performed in resource-poor regions with little or no technology.

One technological limitation that affected Joris was the absence of an MRI machine.  The MRI could tell doctors about the extent of damage to the meniscus in his shoulder, something the X-ray device available to them couldn't do.  As a result, Joris left Port-au-Prince to return to his country of origin and citizenship, Belgium, for an MRI.  He hopes to be back before the Haitian presidential election in the second half of November.  It is his opinion that medical care is better after the earthquake than it was before January 12.

What if MSF/DWB came to New Orleans?  They did do an assessment soon after Katrina struck the city.  Customarily, they operate in less developed countries such as Haiti, where they have been since 1991.  While Haiti's health care has improved because of their work, New Orleans needs a Lobbyists Without Borders to advocate in the state capital in Baton Rouge for healthcare for people without many resources.

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