Healing and Hope for Haiti
By Laura Otto
Nestled in the village of Marmont, in Haiti’s impoverished Central Plateau, sits the adopted clinic of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). Outside the clinic, long lines of Haitian men, women, and children have formed, waiting their turn to receive essential medical care and health education information from SMHS, the School of Public Health and Health Services, and the School of Nursing alumni, faculty, and students.
During the seven-day medical mission, July 8–15, the team saw more than 1,100 patients and treated problems as varied as malnutrition and respiratory issues in children to adult diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension. The multidisciplinary team also performed examinations and administered much-needed medications. “These students practiced medicine entirely through interviews and physical examinations,” says Jack Summer, M.D. ’81, clinical associate professor of medicine at SMHS. “They were forced to rely on their hands and clinical skills to treat patients because medical tests and tools were scarce.”
Summer, who has led the program since 2005, accompanied this year’s group, which included Deborah Pulver, M.D., and Jeremy Kern, M.D., both from Children’s National Medical Center; Margorie Graziano, R.N., Jacqueline Wavelet, R.N., and Erin Yealgey, D.N.P., from the GW School of Nursing; and six medical students, four public health students, three nursing students, and one pre-med undergraduate. For Amanda Eisenberg, M.S. IV, traveling to Haiti was a definite culture shock, from coping with the heat and humidity to witnessing firsthand the poverty that Haitians endure daily. “I was given the opportunity to treat and see many different medical conditions, such as a bowlegged 3-year-old boy with rickets, and a 40-year-old woman with a massive goiter,” says Eisenberg.
The trip marks GW’s eighth successful medical mission to Haiti since the International Medicine Program (IMP) established an affiliation with Project Medishare. The nonprofit founded in 1995 is dedicated to sharing its human and technical resources with its Haitian partners in an effort to achieve quality health care for all Haitians. In 2004, SMHS and Project Medishare teamed up to improve health services and education for the community of Thomonde in the Central Plateau of Haiti.
Over the years, Summer has seen an increase in GW’s involvement in and commitment to the Haiti missions. “Along with the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing is now very committed to this cause,” says Summer.
Armed with the goals of establishing and funding sustainable programs in Haiti’s rural communities; helping train Haitian physicians, community health workers, and nurses; and providing technology, supplies, and staff support for the Thomonde clinics, the team worked alongside Project Medishare’s community health workers to better understand and help alleviate the severity of health problems in Haiti.
Zakiya Chambers, a second-year M.P.H. student with a concentration in community-oriented primary care, says that her experience in Haiti strengthened her ability to think outside the box. She witnessed the wide range of chronic conditions that plague this rural nation, which many people in the United States rarely think about. She adds that the experience “opened my eyes to how important public health really is.”
Each mission to Haiti offers invaluable experiences tthat show the impact of sympathy and support on the success of treatment. “The Haitians were so grateful to have us in their community helping to provide medical care,” says Eisenberg.