October 2, 2006
Daily Challenges of Cuban Doctors in Haiti
MARIA JULIA MAYORAL
GONAIVES, Haiti.-Immersed in its daily routine, the city has erased almost all traces of the severe floods that struck two years ago killing thousands of its inhabitants, destroying buildings and blocking roads. Now it is back to "normality," in the poorest country of the western hemisphere.
At the operating room of the Roboteu Hospital the workload is heavy.
Nevertheless, neither the people that live in Gonaives, the capital of the department of Artibonite, nor the Cuban health workers who were there during the tragedy, forget the difficult moments shared. Both are also aware of the benefits that a relationship underscored by goodwill continues to provide.
While an important part of the Cuban medical brigade is based in the departmental capital, it provides healthcare services in virtually the entire province of Artibonite.
There are Cuban healthcare workers at the hospital units of Ennery, Dessalines, and San Marcos and in the healthcare centers or dispensaries of Marmelade, San Michel, Anse Rouge, Terre Neuvre, L'Estere, Petite-Riviere de L' Artibonite, Verrettes and Grande Saline, among other zones.
For brigade members it is a matter of pride having been the ones who started the Operation Miracle eye surgery program in Haiti.
At La Providencia Hospital they worked very hard to prepare the ophthalmology area, and install the new high-tech equipment. They began doing eye surgeries on August 8, benefiting a large number of low-income persons, who for the first time ever have access to healthcare services thanks to the fact that it is offered free of charge.
Despite the heavy work load at the healthcare centers and house calls, in Artibonite, as in the rest of Haiti, the Cubans find time for the development of their professional training. In this department 95 percent of the Cuban health care workers are studying, says Rafael Rodriguez Treto, who heads the Brigade.
Treto, who is a specialist is gynecology and obstetrics, said the doctors are participating in different Masters Programs and medical research projects, centered in the different types of pathologies existing among the Haitian population.
The work of the Cuban physicians in Gonaives during the severe flooding of 2004 and the hospital at Roboteau, continues to be the "flagship" of the Cuban cooperation. There, all the medical services -surgery, pediatrics, anesthesiology, gynecology, orthopedics- are in the hands of the brigade.
Nurse Maximo Garcia says it is a great joy that a many patients come in to receive the benefits of acupuncture.
Although the installation was remodeled and equipped with the participation of the Cuban doctors, technicians, and nurses, the demands on them are extremely high because the hospital has only 19 beds and many patients, including small children that are brought in to the facility when they are in critical condition.
Before leaving for Haiti, Maria del Carmen Valdes, from the province of Pinar del Rio, was the head of the intensive care unit of the Epifanio Roa Clinic of the San Luis municipality. She is a specialist in internal medicine with 32 years of experience, 16 of which she has devoted to intensive care. She noted that the Roboteau facility lacks optimum conditions to care for gravely ill patients, and that "constantly puts to a test the skills we have learned along these years saving lives."
There are no days without tensions and some of them are "a real headache," explain the doctors. I could barely speak with Drs. Sotolongo and Augusto, two orthopedics specialists. I remember their tired faces and the brief welcome salute that they gave us from a distance. Dressed in the operating room garb, they were taking a few short minutes break before returning to surgery.
They had began working early in the morning, and in the early hours of the afternoon still had several operations to do that could not be delayed.
The Cubans began a new service in recent days in Roboteau, natural and traditional medicine. Nurse Maximo Garcia and physician Walfrido Roque are in charge of that service and the demand it has garnered is surprising. They said they are nearly always met with a long waiting line, above all the senior citizens, who have learned about the benefits of exercise, acupuncture and other treatments that don't make use of pharmaceuticals.
Right next to the area of the doctors' offices is the area devoted to physical therapy, and one can see several instruments made by the Cuban cooperation team. If it were not for these innovations the
rehabilitation services could not have started there.
According to Maxime, the herbal therapy is also winning followers. "Before we began the service, we presented the different types of medicinal teas, and explained their healing properties, in a mutual learning process, because the patients have started to bring in medicinal plants that are plentiful in the places were they live. Thanks to this we are enriching the coverage of our treatments."
For the last seven years the municipality of Marmelade has had the continuous service of members of the Cuban medical brigade with doctors coming on a rotating basis. Located in the northern mountains of Artibonite, it was one of the first zones to receive the Cubans. Today its health post is attended by Dr. Luis Gomez Baez, who has been there for a little over two months, and Elba Avila, a nurse who
arrived in the zone in November 2004.
One of Elba's projects was the forming of an elderly club that meets each Wednesday and Friday for morning exercises. The Cubans have also established a relationship with the midwives who are receiving additional knowledge from the Cuban professionals to improve their assistance to pregnant women.
The people of Marmelade have grown accustomed to the Cubans in our country, said local residents like Martha Preval, a relative of the current Haitian President Rene Preval.
"Without them many people would have died. We are in a mountainous area far from the hospitals and the health post doesn't have an ambulance. If it is necessary to transport a patient it must be done
in police vehicles or private cars, but sometimes the people don't have money to buy the necessary gasoline."
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