One of two Pediatric tents we visited
There is a sign in a damaged Petionville, Haiti bar that reads: "There are no truths, there are only stories." Let's begin by telling a story that may or may not reveal some truths about the stranglehold foreign aid has on Haiti's health care delivery system.
During our second trip to Haiti since the earthquake, we were on the premises of a hospital in Port-au-Prince called Hopital De L'Universite D'Etat D'Haiti (HUEH) when the rhythmical sound of women praying drew us to the perimeter of a sweltering tent where temperatures soared well into the 90-degree range. As the African writer Beryl Markham (West With the Night) suggested, it is "difficult to bring order out of memory. So, days later, the writer relied on notes, photos stored on the big Nikon, and video taken on a pocket Sony camera in order to revisit the tent. Surprisingly, a short, grainy video clip revealed the image of a critically ill infant waving a withered arm.
The waving arm was a surprise and the writer thought, "How wonderful that the infant waved at me," taking the gesture as proof that the suffering infant "needed" help that the American could offer in the way of a story. But this was not the truth of the matter.
The Women in white are praying over these critically ill children
When it came time to do an edit of the video, something else surfaced. There was a fly crawling across the face of the infant, circling the tube that ran into the baby's body through his nose. The congenitally deformed arm was trying to dislodge the fly. The baby was not "waving" at anyone, and it is doubtful that the strong, suffering baby with charts and papers piled in his crib "saw" anyone. The baby was a survivor, still struggling to defend himself from a fly, an invader willing to feed on his suffering.
The infant with the withered arm is Haiti. She is struggling in all of her suffering to wave the flies of foreign interference, hubris, and foreign aid feeders away from her face. For all of the "attention" and "aid" offered to Haiti, she has been abandoned as surely as the infant with the damaged arm.
"Why" the infant lies all but abandoned in a sweltering tent is partially the result of the January 12 earthquake, and partially the result of misplaced foreign aid, good intentions gone awry, as well as international greed, arrogance and incompetence.
Dr. Louis-Franck Telemaque is the Chief of Surgery at HUEH. An intense man, Telemaque speaks in terms of the hospital "before the quake" and "after the quake." He scrutinizes you as you take notes, and if the writer's eyes wander to gauge his demeanor, he demands to know if you are paying attention and writing down the bullet items, "one through five" that he presented. Telemaque has a message and he wants it heard.
Dr. Louis-Franck Telemaque, Chief of Surgery, in what remains of his office at Hopital De L'Universite D'Etat D'Haiti
We met with Telemaque after HUEH director, Dr. Alix Lassegue, gave us free reign on a tour of the hospital grounds and damaged buildings. What we saw would be intolerable conditions in the first world and reminded us of what we had seen in Congo, but worse. The emergency room had no surgical lights, transom windows providing minimal illumination. Only two sterile operating tables were functioning, since the original suite was heavily damaged in the earthquake. There is not enough film for radiography, no stretcher wipes, no surgical sterile wipes, no equipment wipes, no sheets and no way to wash them if they were available. Ultra sound gel is needed, as are towels, since there is no way to clean up blood and fluids after a trauma case passes through the emergency room.
The school of nursing is in complete ruins, and over one hundred students and teachers perished there. The diagnostic laboratory is housed in a tent donated by UNICEF. The lab has some equipment; much of it outdated donations from the CDC.
The pediatrics building was destroyed and this partially explains the tents with the praying women. There is simply no other facility to house critically ill babies and children. In a twist of fate, the OBGYN building survived, so children may enter this world under watchful eyes and good care, but if they fall ill the critical care facilities are far beyond what anyone in the United States would find "acceptable."
Non-sterile surgical suite