By Drew Martowski
CENTRAL PLATEAU, Haiti–The prior two days of mobile health clinics have taken place in schoolhouses. The simple reason for this seems to be that they are the only completed buildings other than churches that can afford adequate space and shade to serve the numbers of people that our presence attracts. The infrastructure available to those in the central plateau is minimal at best. Schoolhouses do exist, yet tuition is prohibitively expensive for most children. Second, people come from all over the surrounding area seeking basic healthcare because for many, traveling to the permanent clinics is a long journey and this makes it difficult for those to obtain regular health care. Both factors are the result of extreme poverty.
In Haiti, one is constantly reminded of the poverty. The muddy dirt roads demand the use of four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles (their necessity makes the word “sport” seem ironic). Many children sit naked beside the road or pump water from wells into dirty, old, plastic containers. Yesterday at the pediatrics station, the majority of the children were clearly malnourished. We were frequently struck by the disparity between their apparent and actual ages. Today at the prenatal station, many if not most of the mothers appeared clearly anemic and in danger of complications upon delivery. I could go on.
There is however, one incredibly important aspect of my experience in Haiti, which has stopped surprising me, but which still amazes me. The attitude of the Haitian population is wonderful. Everyone here is so pleasant and always laughing with us and smiling at us. In spite of such abject poverty, the people thrive in spirit and culture. They appreciate our presence so much that I often find myself forgetting where I am when trying to treat and connect with a patient. It is readily apparent that the Haitian people here want so much to better the lives of the people in their community, and we’re doing our best to help one patient or family at a time with their health needs. However, real progress in Haiti will take a concerted effort, like that of the Integrated Community Development Program in Marmont. While we can treat patients for serious and minor illnesses, these are just a few of the symptoms of the disease of severe poverty which afflicts so many here.
Drew Martowski is a medical student at the University of Miami.