DGHI Faculty Helping to Address the Changing Needs of Post-Earthquake Haiti

Published January 13, 2015

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Patient at the FHM Blanchard Clinic receives IV fluids from a volunteer medical mission team member

Five years ago yesterday, on January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit with an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, causing more than 230,000 deaths and displacing 1.5 million people. 

The past five years of aid from relief organizations and donor money has transformed Haiti’s healthcare system. However, now that Haiti is no longer considered an emergency location, many of these efforts have ended, leaving a vacuum of healthcare resources. 

But Family Health Ministries (FHM), founded by DGHI associate professor David Walmer, is there for the long haul. FHM’s mission is to “support Haitian communities in their efforts to build and sustain healthy families by developing best health care practices to share across Haiti and other low-resource communities.”

This past weekend, Walmer and his wife, Kathy Walmer, adjunct assistant professor at Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) and executive director of Family Health Ministries (FHM), traveled to Leogane to continue discussions with NGOs, a core group of Haitians and government entities about persisting aid gaps in Haiti and how organizations can prepare their clinics to continue providing services. 

New Community Needs Arise in the Aftermath of the Earthquake 

After the first reports of the earthquake, the Walmers waited a painstaking three days until communications were re-established with their clinic in Port-au-Prince. Thankfully, they learned that although their school in Fondwa was demolished, their entire team was safe and the clinic was still standing. 

The FHM clinic immediately saw an influx of patients—most of them suffering from severe injuries from fallen structures or emotional damage due to the horrific loss of family, friends and normal life. These emerging needs shifted their focus from preventive care to emergency services and psychological care. 

Meanwhile, the healthcare system had to adjust as Haiti was suddenly inundated with relief organizations. FHM quickly adapted to the new collaborative nature of healthcare while ensuring that their clinics continued to use their pre-existing Haitian staff. 

DGHI Support Helped Sustain FHM

DGHI’s financial support following the earthquake allowed FHM to rebuild their infrastructure within the Leogane community and has been a critical part of their success throughout the past five years. DGHI has continued to support FHM by sending masters and undergraduate students to Haiti to work with partnering organizations collecting data on the process of rebuilding a devastated health system. 

Visiting Haiti in the days following the earthquake, DGHI director Michael Merson was struck by the level of devastation and the work being done by local organizations, including FHM, in the face of an infrastructure that was utterly decimated. “The immediate response by Duke Medicine teams of health care providers was impressive and impactful,” said Merson. “I am pleased that DGHI has been involved with FHM and our colleagues in Haiti for the long term.”

FHM Continues to Provide Much-Needed Preventive Care

FHM’s clinic has survived the past five challenging years, and as a large number of relief organizations discontinue their services in Haiti this year, they will face a new challenge—providing more preventive healthcare services to fill the gap left by the departing aid groups. 

The existing FHM clinic in Port-au-Prince has continued to provide family health and women’s health services. Now that many of the earthquake-related healthcare needs have diminished, this clinic can turn its full attention back to preventive health and basic women’s healthcare services. 

FHM is also preparing to scale up their services through the establishment of new health care centers. A new birthing center that will provide skilled midwifery services is under development in the rural town of Tom Gato. This birthing center will be associated with another new building, the Leogane Surgical Center, which will assist patients who need a higher level of treatment. Women who have complications at the birthing center or women needing a surgical intervention associated with cervical cancer or delivery of a baby will be treated at the surgical center. 

Collaboration Is Key to Haiti’s Success

Although new facilities and dedicated FHM staff will go a long way in addressing the needs of the community, Kathy Walmer emphasizes the critical role that partnerships play in helping FHM achieve their mission. “Family Health Ministries is not a relief organization; we are here for the long term,” said Walmer. “Over the past years, we have created alliances with many organizations to work collaboratively with the Ministry of Health, other NGOs and the private sector. These alliances will continue as FHM enters this new phase of healthcare.”

Five years ago, Haiti’s healthcare system faced the monumental challenges of a devastating natural disaster and an evolving system of care that included the welcome efforts of many relief organizations. Now, as these organizations continue to transition out of the country, healthcare in Haiti is going through a new phase that presents both challenges and opportunities. Relief organizations paved a pathway for healthcare in Haiti; now it is time for permanent organizations, such as FHM, to continue their efforts, sustaining and building the system for years to come.

The FHM clinic immediately saw an influx of patients—most of them suffering from severe injuries from fallen structures or emotional damage due to the horrific loss of family, friends and normal life. These emerging needs shifted their focus from preventive care to emergency services and psychological care.