Christmas in the tropics

Baby Riley, one year later

“Our team encountered an abandoned baby in the bateye of Antonce near Yamasa, Dominican Republic,” reports Canadian high school teacher Peggy Dunne.

“We were told that the child had been left there because his mother could not face seeing her child die.”

Stories like this are not uncommon in the sugar cane plantations where filthy conditions, extreme poverty and lack of basic services plague the daily lives of hundreds of families.

Dunne was part of the Dominican Republic Experience, a program of Canadian student and adult volunteers that travels to the D.R. twice a year to support the community development work in the impoverished Yamasa district.

Since the first trips organized by then high school teacher Roger Perry in the early 1990s, schools and clinics have been built and staffed through contributions of money, manpower and medicine supplied by the program. The teams that travel there now regular bring several Physician Travel Packs to supply the ongoing needs of the clinics and the young doctor they are supporting.

The main clinic in the town of Yamasa is staffed on a rotation basis with pediatricians, gynecologists, G.P.s and surgeons. Carmen, a full-time nurse, offers basic care along with Mercedes, a nurse who works part-time.

The satellite clinics in the very poor outlying areas are serviced by the team’s sponsored physician, Leonardo de Jesus Acosta, affectionately known as Dr. Leo. Medicine for the clinics is carried in large tool kits in the back of a truck. Dunne says, “These clinics are very basic but a valuable means of getting medical help to the remote locations.”

It was while visiting one of these satellite clinics that the team came across the dying infant. “Dr. Leo was able to use the medicine we had brought with us to save the baby’s life,” reports Dunne. “We have two photos: the infant Riley when we first found him, and the same child, one year later, happy and very much alive.”

Riley’s life is not the only one to be transformed by the medicine offered through the PTPs. Dunne says that over time, the quality of life of the whole community is changing. “I personally have witnessed a real improvement in the health and the lives of the people who are residing in the often deplorable conditions at Antonce since we began bringing PTP kits with us.”

This may help to explain Dunne’s appreciation for the packs, and the feeling that it’s Christmas in the tropics when the medicine arrives.

“We are so very grateful to the companies who donate the medicine,” she says. “Our nurse Carmen, close to tears, sang us ‘Feliz Navidad’ when she opened her first PTP.”

Family receives compassionate care

Kofi’s mom stays by his bedside at HEAL Africa hospital

Canadian RN Connie Smith, who lives in Goma, DR Congo, visited HEAL Africa Hospital and met with some of the people who have benefited from donations from HPIC. She tells this story:

In the pediatric ward I introduced myself to Kofi. Both his legs from ankle to hip were in a cast. I found out he was five, that he was from the village of Kitsombiro and that his favourite food is fish. In his hands he had a wad of Congolese francs. “What are you going to buy, Kofi? Cookies?” A big smile came over his face as he nodded yes.

I’m glad I didn’t ask him why he was in the hospital. Soon Kofi’s mother came in and I asked her how Kofi got injured.

She lowered her voice as she began their story. “One night I was home with my husband, Kofi who was about four, and my baby daughter Olive who was sleeping. Without warning, armed rebels – the Interahamwe – swarmed our village. Two drunken militia came into our house. They tied up my husband and told him, ‘We’re going to rape your wife and we want you to see it.’

“I was terrified, but heard myself say, ‘Listen – let me go wash up first. I’ve been in the field all day and my body is not clean. It will only take a little while, then I’ll come back.’

“They fell for it! Of course I took my baby and ran. I got away from them. Once they realized what had happened, though, they were furious. They beat my husband silly and they shot off their guns. Kofi took the worst of it. He was shot in his right knee and left arm.

“Once the danger was past I came back to find my family. Our village had been burned to the ground by the rebels. Kofi had been treated at the local hospital, but he needed more specialized care. We got on the back of a pickup and drove for five hours to Goma and got him into HEAL Africa Hospital.”

Kofi has had several surgeries and he may still need more. His parents lost everything in the attack, since the rebels burned the village when they left it. Having the supplies needed for this little boy to be cared for has been a great boost to them, as they know they couldn’t afford to access them on their own.

Eastern Congo is becoming more peaceful, but there are still armed groups active in the rural areas, terrorizing innocent families. I am amazed that under the circumstances, Kofi’s mom was able to think on her feet rather than be paralyzed by fear. Her survival instinct kicked in, and although she was not able to protect her whole family, they are together again and receiving the care they need.

Before I left her she begged me for a job, but I regretfully explained that I don’t have work for her. She was encouraged only by my explanation that my work is to tell her story so that more Canadians will continue to help families like hers.

In memory of Yvonne Martin, a friend of Haiti

Health Partners International of Canada is deeply saddened by the news of the death of Canadian nurse Yvonne Martin in Haiti.

Martin was in Haiti for the fourth time on a medical mission with the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada – a partner of HPIC.

Our hearts go out to her family, her church, and the doctor and nurses who were with her when she lost her life.

May her example of compassion and service be an inspiration to us all.

The Northwest Haiti Christian Mission receives hundreds of earthquake survivors

The town of St-Louis du Nord in the northwest region of Haiti did not crumble when the earthquake struck the country on January 12, but the aftermath of the quake will be felt for a long time to come.

The population in the area served by the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission – a community health partner of HPIC – has ballooned from 7,000 to more than 20,000 as people flee the area surrounding Port-au-Prince.

Rev. Tina Simpson-Leslie of NWHCM says, “Our staff is overwhelmed with the wounded pouring in. So many are fighting gangrene, and so many limbs are being lost. We can treat and heal their wounds but their emotions and their minds are still so hurt.”

On Saturday, January 23, HPIC president Glen Shepherd travelled to Haiti on a humanitarian flight of Air Canada, with medicine in the cargo hold destined for the NWHCM. The shipment consisted of over $67,000 worth of antibiotics, analgesics, vitamins and other medicines, all donated by Canadian pharmaceutical companies.

This was not the first time medicine from HPIC would be used to treat earthquake victims. In the hours following the earthquake, staff from the mission had carried medicine and supplies from their most recent HPIC shipment to the disaster zone to provide emergency medical care. As this latest shipment is unpacked and put to use, thousands more people will receive the treatment they so desperately need.

Regular medical aid shipments will continue for the NWHCM, as they persevere in treating this impoverished and battered population in the months to come. Simpson-Leslie is unequivocal in her gratitude. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she says. “God bless you all.”

Canadian Medical Assistance Teams hits the ground running in Haiti

Take an open field, a tent and a team of dedicated Canadian medical professionals – add medicine and supplies, including Physician Travel Packs from HPIC – and you have the makings of a make-shift clinic, ready to treat the flow of people who were injured when the earthquake struck the town of Léogane.

Canadian Medical Assistance Teams, composed of volunteer doctors and nurses from across Canada, sent their first team into Haiti only two days after the earthquake. Other medical teams have since been deployed, including a physician who can provide full spinal anesthesia, essential to the numerous amputations that are required.

“The city of Léogane, which has a population of 134,000, is about 80 per cent devastated, including a five-story nursing school” reports Valerie Rzepka, Registered Nurse and CMAT Chairperson, who went to Haiti with CMAT’s assessment team. “The people here are experiencing many fractures and wounds. Supplies are very limited.”

Paramedic Bill Coultart told the National Post, “I had a kid come in with a plate-sized hole in his head right down to his skull. It’s infected. Whether he’ll survive that, I don’t know. We do what we can.”

And amidst the tragedy, there are glimmers of hope. One week after the earthquake, clinic staff were overjoyed to deliver a healthy baby boy.

HPIC continues to send Physician Travel Packs with CMAT teams to serve the sick and injured in and around Léogane. Every PTP contains a wide range of basic medication and dressings – enough to treat up to 600 people for their basic health care needs.

Volunteers in Mississauga help send medicine to Haiti

A team of volunteers from OPG packs PTPs for Haiti

When disaster strikes and emergency medical aid is a priority, the Physician Travel Pack from HPIC is in hot demand. Extra help is needed to prepare the packs and get them out the door quickly.

Each PTP consists of two boxes for a total weight of 50 lbs., containing a wide range of primary care medicine and medical supplies, enough to treat hundreds of people. The PTP is prepared as a mobile medical kit, complete with plastic carrying handles. It is convenient, portable, and – for healthcare professionals heading out to do emergency medical work – extremely popular.

Along with the regular roster of hundreds of Canadians who use PTPs overseas every year, the earthquake in Haiti created an immediate and major spike in demand.

Thankfully, the generosity and activism that has motivated so many medical teams to offer their services in the beleaguered country has also prompted groups of volunteers to step up and offer to prepare the requested packs.

In the last two weeks of January, 120 PTPs were especially prepared for Haiti by three teams of volunteers: a regular group that handles HPIC’s standard requests, a group from Ontario Power Generation and a team from pharmaceutical company Bayer Inc.

Other volunteer groups from the pharmaceutical industry to be packing PTPs for Haiti include Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline.

For the companies involved, this is a great team-building opportunity, while contributing to a cause they believe in. For the people who come to pack, the impact is tangible and direct.

One participant remarked: “We pack these medicines in the morning and in the afternoon they’re on their way to Haiti.”

Another volunteer put it this way: “It is important causes like this that bring people together.”

Haitian-Canadian doctors return home equipped with medicine from HPIC

Haitian-Canadian doctors are returning to their home country to help care for the thousands of Haitians who need medical attention following the earthquake on Jan. 12.

Dr. Christian Lauriston, a Montreal-based family doctor, is president of the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad. “I would like to thank the Canadian pharmaceutical industry for the generous donations of medicine,” Dr. Lauriston said at a news conference at the Consulate General of Haiti Jan. 21.

The Consul General of Montreal, Pierre Richard Casimir, who made the connection between HPIC and Dr. Lauriston, echoed this gratitude.

HPIC delivered six Physician Travel Packs to Dr. Lauriston. At the news conference, Casimir emphasized that medicine is one of the most pressing needs in his country.

Dr. Lauriston said his organization was sending more than 100 ex-pat Haitian doctors, many from Canada, on two-week rotations.

“The ultimate goal is to alleviate pain and suffering of the proud people of Haiti struggling with the aftermath of a monstrous earthquake,” he said.

Air Canada carries HPIC medicine to Ha

Air Canada personnel unload PTPs in Port-au-Prince

Air Canada has responded to the call for humanitarian aid for Haiti by supplying free transportation and crew time for shipments of medicine, emergency supplies and medical personnel into the country, and for orphans and evacuees coming back to Canada.

Richard Boileau, Executive Vice-President of HPIC, was on one of several flights carrying medicine from HPIC. The cargo of that flight included 40 Physician Travel Packs – mobile medical kits destined for two NGO partners operating in different areas of the country.

Half the PTPs were delivered to OMS, a long-standing partner of HPIC that runs a clinic in the northern part of the country.

Boileau accompanied the other PTPs as they were delivered to a field hospital just outside the airport, operated by Médecins du Monde. “The personnel were delighted to see the Physician Travel Packs,” reports Boileau.

“Not only do these contain a broad selection of essential medicines and supplies, but they are portable and self-contained. The doctors were very excited about carrying the PTPs with them in order to reach people who did not yet have access to medical care.”

“We are very grateful to Air Canada for making this possible.”

Tetanus vaccines expedited to Haiti

A special shipment of 5,000 doses of tetanus vaccine from Health Partners International of Canada has made its way to Port-au-Prince thanks to GlaxoSmithKline and Air Canada.

“These vaccines will treat 5,000 Haitians wounded during the earthquake and its aftermath, protecting people from immense suffering or death,” says John Clayton of Samaritan’s Purse Canada, which will be vaccinating patients at the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital south of Port-au-Prince. “The need is great and it is a relief to know that help is on its way.”

Tetanus is an infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, a cousin of the bacteria that cause gangrene and botulism. Muscles contract leading to rigidity and spasms and sufferers can experience painful whole-body spasms. They may be unable to speak or eat and have difficulty breathing.

“Tetanus is endemic to Haiti and there are increasingly more reported cases,” says Brent Davis of Samaritan’s Purse. Some Haitians are not vaccinated at all and most of the population has not kept up to date with booster shots, leaving them vulnerable to a terrible disease that has a high mortality rate.

The vaccines will be accompanied by HPIC’s Helen Crawley who will be flying to Haiti courtesy of Air Canada to ensure that the vaccines get to Samaritan’s Purse representatives.

Samaritan’s Purse staff will be vaccinating 100-500 patients a day.

With a lot of help from my friends

Javier Anderson and Rosibel Ocampo have five children, including 15-month-old triplets. Trying to take care of their family on an income of $155/month is pushing them well beyond their means.

So when the triplets all contracted bronchialitis, there was no chance of being able to pay for treatment.

The Anderson Ocampos live in the hill community of Colinas del Memorial Sandino, in Nicaragua. Rosibel stays at home with her young children while her husband, Javier, works as a painter. The triplets – two girls and one boy – have two older brothers, 11 and 13 years old.

According to Canadian nurse Heather Kerr, who participated in a volunteer medical mission in this community, the people only seek help if they are extremely ill, otherwise they have no medical care. Nicaragua does not have a universal medical system. Because of the high unemployment (near 50 per cent), there is no money to pay to see a doctor or buy medications.

Everyone suffers from parasites as their water is contaminated, says Kerr. Many people eat only one meal a day, which consists of rice and beans. Urinary tract infections are common. Most women suffer from osteoporosis because they have many babies and their diet is low in calcium.

Along with the general lack of nutrition and hygiene, the triplets had already suffered many health problems, including pneumonia, bronchitis, allergies, and malnutrition.

When their parents heard that a free medical clinic was being held in their town, thanks to a Canadian volunteer team from Southview Alliance Church in Calgary, it was their only hope for help in an increasingly desperate situation.

The clinic was held in a church with a tin roof and walls, surrounded by dust, in 40C heat. Some 120 patients per day came to see the doctors, one Canadian and two local, who, along with a support team of nurses and helpers, diagnosed and treated them with medicine from the Physician Travel Pack.

When Stefanny, Josue and Tyfanny came to the clinic, they were wheezing and feverish. They were treated with painkillers, antihistamines and antibiotics from the PTP, and given vitamins to help rebuild their systems.

Kerr reports, “Ten days later, their lungs were clear. The wheezing was gone and they regained their appetite.”

With financial support from their new Canadian friends, the community church has started a food program for these underprivileged families. According to team leader Gary Melanson, “They are using the limited resources that they have to reach out into their community with a program that feeds three meals a week to over 150 children. For some of these children, these meals may be the only food that they receive during the week.”

Thanks to the Physician Travel Pack, a group of compassionate Canadians and a caring church, the Anderson Ocampos have been given a fresh start. The children are free of parasites and infection. They are receiving regular meals and vitamins.

Southview Alliance will continue supporting this community, and another volunteer team will be visiting shortly. The Anderson Ocampos, as well as the hundreds of people who have benefited from this partnership, will eagerly await them.