Rebuilding from the 2010 Earthquake: Hope and Resilience in Haiti

Rebuilding from the 2010 Earthquake: Hope and Resilience in Haiti

Women visit the SDSH-supported Marmont clinic in Haiti’s Central Plateau. {Photo credit: C. Gilmartin/MSH.}Photo credit: C. Gilmartin/MSH.

Late one April night in 2012, 19-year-old Ilionelle was struggling to give birth at her home in rural northwest Haiti. After several hours, she began having seizures, a clear indication of eclampsia, a severe medical disorder that can lead to the death of the mother and/or baby.

Ilionelle’s situation is not uncommon in Haiti, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western hemisphere with 630 deaths per 100,000 live births. Fortunately, Tilma, the traditional birth attendant helping Ilionelle, quickly identified these life-threatening symptoms and arranged for her transport to Beraca Hospital for emergency obstetric care. After being carried on a stretcher for four hours along a steep and treacherous road, Ilionelle arrived at Beraca Hospital where she safely delivered a healthy baby boy. “If it wasn’t for Tilma, both my son and I could have died,” Ilionelle said.

Tilma is among thousands of Haitians working to improve their nation’s health after recent years of misfortune.

As many recall all too vividly, three years ago on January 12th, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck within miles of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people and injuring an additional 300,000. The earthquake destroyed Haiti’s health sector and infrastructure, leveling health clinics and hospitals, killing doctors and nurses, and interrupting drug supply chains. The homes of approximately two million Haitians were completely destroyed.

Through the USAID- and PEPFAR-funded Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haïti (SDSH) project, led by Management Sciences for Health, Tilma received additional training on performing safe deliveries, identifying signs of high-risk pregnancies, and referring pregnant women at risk to health facilities for care. Obstetric skills and emergency care training equip her to help the women in her community safely give birth and remain healthy caregivers for their children. This training was vitally important for Tilma who works in Port-de-Paix, a region of Haiti where 63 percent of births take place at home. (Nationally, only 26 percent of births are assisted by a skilled attendant.)

In the three years since the earthquake, millions of Haitians have worked to rebuild their lives amidst Haiti’s political and social instability, widespread poverty, and extreme tragedies, including the cholera epidemic which has sickened more than 600,000 people and killed an estimated 7,844 residents throughout the country.

Throughout these difficult times, the SDSH project has provided support to the country’s health system, helping to improve access to quality health services for nearly half of Haiti’s population.

Since 2007, SDSH has supported health facilities in providing essential services and interventions focused on maternal, newborn, and child health; family planning and reproductive health; and prevention, detection, care, and treatment of HIV & AIDS and tuberculosis. To date, SDSH-supported facilities have carried out more than 52,000 post-partum visits, 236,000 prenatal visits, and reached nearly 500,000 children through their nutrition programs, while effectively reducing the impact of HIV & AIDS and tuberculosis.

SDSH has also trained 732 traditional birth attendants from 10 districts, with each trainee receiving 40 hours of training over five months, enabling them with the knowledge and skills to provide quality care to pregnant women and newborns. The project aims to train 2,000 additional traditional birth attendants in 2013.

SDSH is committed to improving the capacity of health workers, like Tilma, and preserving the lives of women, like Ilionelle, in the wake of the earthquake. Strong mothers, healthy children, and trained health workers are essential for rebuilding lives and communities in Haiti.

Colin Gilmartin is a technical officer at MSH’s Center for Health Services.