Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti

Saving Lives, Changing Lives

Friday, September 10, 2010

High School Student's Visit to HAS

My name is Robin Brody and I am a high school student in Colorado who had the incredible opportunity to spend nine days at HAS. The experience was one I will never forget.

My appreciation for everything we have access to here in the United States grew exponentially since my visit to Haiti. It amazes how abundant our resources are, and it troubles me greatly. We waste too much of everything here; but the one thing that now troubles me most of all is our waste of food. While at HAS I worked with the children and families in the Annex (the malnutrition unit) whose major challenge has been to get enough food to eat.

While at HAS, I worked with the kids and families in the Nutrition Annex. I visited and painted with them many afternoons during my stay. I noticed how closed off and sad all the patients and their families were. After only a few minutes of interaction, they opened up and started laughing and smiling.

I became very curious as to how these children became malnourished in the first place. The hospital’s community-based workers, Animatrices, had collected data to find which areas have the highest risk households for having a malnourished child. I helped to enter the data from these surveys into a register, and once the data was compiled and the areas with the most risk factors identified, we headed up to the mountains (where there were the most household with high risk factors) to see where the children who came to the Annex came from.

We went to house after house with four or five risk factors. The established risk factors are simple; If a family has a metal roof rather than thatched they are at less of a risk. If they have a latrine they are at less a risk then those without. If the family uses a method of family planning then they are at less of a risk of having a malnourished child. If they cook on some sort of elevated “stove” they are at less of a risk then if they cook on three stones on the ground. If a family has a pump near their house they are much better off then if they have to walk miles to a stream and if they have a filtration device for the water their children are less likely to be mal-nourished.

At the houses with high risk factors, we found malnourished kids by measuring their arm circumference (less then 12cm indicates a malnourished child. 12cm shows the child needs to be watched carefully and over 12cm means they are OK).

Robin Brody
On the positive side not every high-risk home had a malnourished child. In the houses with malnourished children we gave the families pre-packaged bags of dried rice, bean, vegetables and vitamins in hopes that the children could gain a little weight each week, and the other children could be kept from becoming malnourished.

It was fascinating and devastating to see the relationship between the high-risk factor houses and the children who had dipped to low and ended up in the Annex at HAS. The experience made me incredibly grateful and eager to do something more to help!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

ALFA Program

One of the great tragedies in Haiti today is the large number of adults who are analfabete; illiterate, and not able to participate in the normal exchanges which are the foundation of contemporary society. For example, the majority of HAS’ animatrices, who are the front lines of the hospital’s connection with the residents of the HAS region, cannot read or write. For that reason, when we conducted a Risk Factor Analysis for infant malnutrition, we used a graphic check sheet so that all of the animatrices could participate.

The HAS alphabetization project has been operating for two years with the generous support of the Hummingbird Foundation, and has graduated more than 200 participants in a 2-year program of 3 afternoons per week.
Last Thursday, the 2010 graduating class invited Dawn Johnson and me to join them for their graduation ceremony in a shady church yard in Marin. More than 123 people from 8 mountain communities arrived for the ceremony, dressed in their finest, and quite proud of their achievement. Each of the community groups contributed something to the ceremony; a short theatre piece, a song, a dance, or speeches of welcome or gratitude, all of which involved reading.

One of the skits involved a small group walking to their Alfa class, and greeting a farmer in a field, inviting him to join them. “Too busy” he grunted. As the students walked back and forth each day, they told the farmer what they had learned. “I can measure my field and calculate my corn harvest” one said. Another said that she can read the label on a can of fertilizer. Another said that he will make a list of everything he will buy in the Verettes market. Eventually, the farmer’s restraint dissolved, and he followed the students off stage with his hoe on his shoulder, stimulating a standing ovation.
Agathe Geneus, our animated project coordinator, asked several participants what they could do now, that they could not do before the class. “I can read my child’s vaccination card” one said. “I can read my prescription, and now I don’t miss my medications” said another. One woman reported that now she can read with her children when they come home from school. An older farmer stated formally “Alfabetizaston se lavantage nou!”; being able to read and write gives us an advantage.

One group arrived in white shirts with a handwritten message on the back “ABA TI +”. All through the ceremony, I stewed over what this word meant. As the final act, they came to the microphone and sang a song about how they finally have learned to write their own names on documents, and don’t have to be embarrassed by having to make an X mark. Thus the motto on their shirt; “No more small cross”, sung with great pride.
Periodically during the ceremony, Dawn Johnson, who supports the literacy project, and I were invited to join the groups who were performing dances. Dawn is graceful, and I am less so. At a quiet moment, a young woman went to the microphone and, reading from a paper, announced that she wanted to ask me a question. She asked “How did you learn to dance, M. Jean?” The audience was teetering on the edge of open laughter, so, in as much of a deadpan I could muster, I said “I learned to dance from a book”, which gave everyone permission to give full vent to their laughter.

It’s possible that our culture has lost the gift of ritual in ceremonies; we have much to learn from Haitians, for whom ceremonies hold a vital function, to celebrate, to honor transitions, or to mark the beginning or end of important life stages. For the participants in this ceremony, their two years of effort were capped by a memorable, happy and important event. The flowery certificates which they took home with them will, long into the future, trigger memories of a morning in which they were honored for their commitment to self-development, and recognized for achievements. And I will long remember it also.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

HAS Welcomes New Medical Director, Dr. Silvia Ernst

Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS) wishes to thank and bid a fond farewell to Rolf Maibach, MD. Dr. Maibach has served at HAS as medical director for 2 ½ years, pediatrician for 1 ½ years and as a board member of HAS for 10 1/2 years, as well as 14 years of short term volunteering. He is returning to his home in Switzerland but will remain on the HAS board. Dr. Maibach wrote the following touching letter to express his deep attachment to HAS and to introduce the new Medical Director, Dr. Silvia Ernst:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:
Today is my last day as Medical Director at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS). Dr. Silvia Ernst will arrive in Haiti this morning, welcomed by Ian at the airport, briefed about the news at HAS and will immediately take over as Medical Director. Silvia and I had the opportunity of brainstorming for 10 days in Switzerland and for an additional day in Ilanz and from those meetings, it is clear that Silvia is very well prepared for her important and difficult task at HAS. Silvia brings with her a wide range of professional and personal experience from her excellent work in Switzerland, India, Belgium and Africa. HAS is very fortunate to have Silvia as its new “Directrice Medicale”. Along with Silvia, HAS is privileged to have two outstanding Haitian physicians who have served as Acting Medical Directors, Dr. Harryo Sannon, Chief of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Maurice P. Toussaint, Chief of Pediatrics. Another important member of the team is Ms. Eda Sam who will succeed my wife Raphaela as Haitian Chief of Laboratory.

Raphaela and I are not leaving Haiti or HAS at all. In fact, we will be in Haiti several times a year assisting with the supervision of the Swiss Pediatric Transition Project and the Social Service and Laboratory Projects. I will also remain as a Member of the HAS Board.

Now it is time for me to express my thanks. The farewell party that the employees of HAS arranged for me was wonderful and touching and I thank you for putting it together for me and for the years of your service with me. I wish to thank the patients of HAS as well. I would also like to extend my thanks to the Board of Directors and the Senior Management, especially Ian and Nevin and Jimmie and Dawn; and of course, the team at the Pittsburgh office. Thanks to all of you for your help during the last few years. As you all know, my heart will always be with HAS as I share with you a deep concern for its future and the health and well being of the people of the Artibonite Valley.

Raphaela and I are thankful for the privilege of being a part of the wonderful HAS team.

Rolf Maibach

Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti wishes to welcome Dr. Silvia Ernst as HAS Medical Director!

A little bit about Silvia Ernst, MD:

Silvia Ernst, MD, Internal Medicine (FMH), General Medicine(FMH)Diploma in Tropical Medicine and International Health.

Silvia was born in Switzerland and is fluent in German, French and English. She studied at the University of Zurich, the University of Lausanne, the University of Basel and the Tropical Institute of Antwerp, Belgium. Her specialty is Internal Medicine and General Medicine with a post graduate certificate in Tropical Medicine and International Health. During her training, Silvia has worked in gynecology/obstetrics, surgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, intensive care, pediatrics, radiology and infectiology.

Silvia is a member of the Swiss Medical Association, the Swiss Association of Residents and Consultants and the Swiss Association of Internal Medicine.

Silvia’s work in the developing world, and in particular her recent work at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene, Gabon immediately identified her as the top candidate for medical director of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti. She has served on the board of directors of the hospital in Lambarene, and is well acquainted with the Schweitzer philosophy that is central to HAS.

She also has been very involved with humanitarian activities at the Leprosy Hospital in Kothara, India. Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti is very pleased to welcome Dr. Silvia Ernst to our team.
Silvia Ernst, M.D.