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Caritas sets up a mobile basic health clinic in Leogane, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake. Credits: Katie Orlinsky/ Caritas 2010

Caritas sets up a mobile basic health clinic in Leogane, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake.
Credits: Katie Orlinsky/ Caritas 2010

By Mathilde Magnier

As many humanitarian organizations have started to withdraw their temporary medical units from the city of Léogàne, about 50 km from the capital Port-au-Prince, Caritas health centres are needed more than ever.

90% of the city was destroyed in the earthquake. Caritas provided emergency treatment during the first weeks after the disaster. Now, people mainly need basic care. Most of them couldn’t afford it even before the earthquake.

It is the end of the day at the small health centre of Çaira, a neighbourhood close to the city centre of Léogàne. The last patients are going home. Nurses, the doctor on call and the staff are getting ready to close the centre’s doors and prepare their weekly briefing.

“This week was much busier than the previous ones,” says Valérie Chadic, the director of the centre.

“Over the last day, patients have just been pouring in and it doesn’t look like that is going to change in the near future. A lot of humanitarian organisations provided urgency treatment after the disaster and are now leaving Léogàne. So people are coming to the remaining ones, like us. They are coming from far away to get treatment,” she said.

“Of course, the pace has changed since the first days, when we had more than 200 patients a day, but a lot of needs remain.” Today, the doctors are not treating serious injuries anymore, but lots of cases of diarrhea or respiratory and skin infections caused by bad living and hygiene conditions.

Although the first months’ urgency is over, health structures need to be maintained to stabilize the situation in Léogàne. The city was very hard-hit by the earthquake and was lacking health care even before.

“Even the big hospital closed last year, that explains it all,” says Fr. Marat Guirand, in charge of the Sainte Rose de Lima parish in Léogàne.

As contradictory as it may seem, “people have never had access to as much health care like as after the earthquake. In that sense, all the temporary clinics we had here had a very good impact, that went even beyond the treatment of injuries and other diseases linked to the disaster,” says Fr. Marat.

What attracts people, and what makes them come from far away, is the presence of medical staff but also the fact that the treatment is free. For the first time, Max Napoléon could get treatment for his back pain that often caused him difficulties to walk. “I could never have paid the bill! And even less today, I don’t have much money left and there are other priorities,” says the 21-year old.

Schmidt Cunor had “never been sick before this year”. He lost everything in the earthquake, his house, his belongings, even his tools. He worked as a scrap merchant before the earthquake. Since then, he has lived in a tiny tent with his mother, his two sisters and his 4-year-old son.

“It is because of the earthquake that I now have a lot of stomach pains and without the health centre, I couldn’t have gotten treatment, again because of the earthquake. No job means no money and that means no medicine”, he says.

“For those who didn’t have access to any treatment before, our centres offer basic treatment. Il makes a real difference,” explains Valérie Chadic.

In March and April, Caritas also supported vaccination campaigns against diphteria, tetanus, measles and rubella. Within two months, roughly 4,000 people could get vaccinated for the first time against these frequent diseases in Haiti. “A real improvement,” says the young doctor.

For Dr. Jean Bosco Mbom, in charge of this programme at Caritas, it is “essential to stay and continue to work in the two centres set up by Caritas in Léogàne”.

“In the next weeks, we will transform the Çaira dispensary into a general hospital. We will add beds, a child delivery room, a laboratory and much more. These structures need to remain in the area and they need to be improved further.”

Four months after the earthquake, people still live in very precarious conditions that seriously impact their health.

“It is understandable though that part of the emergency aid from the first weeks after the earthquake is taken away and redeployed otherwise. A lot of organizations came here in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Now, the situation will get back to normal slowly. Not all of them can stay.”

Caritas has provided health treatment to more than 60,000 people in Haiti so far.