Ashley Jonathan Clements Headshot

Building A Lasting Healthcare System For Haiti

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The idea of universal healthcare, or at the very least, providing more accessible healthcare for the United States' poorest families, is a hotly-debated topic across the country. However, in Haiti, where the average person makes just over $1 a day, expensive, inaccessible health care can often make the difference between life and death. Diseases that are easily treatable - and often preventable - like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, can become a death sentence for Haitians, particularly for children. In a post-earthquake environment like Haiti's, providing healthcare for the survivors has now become one of the top priorities.

January's earthquake killed more than 220,000 people and injured more than 300,000 Haitians, many of whom require ongoing healthcare to stay alive and lead productive lives. In the days immediately after the earthquake and in an effort to help these patients, the Government of Haiti boldly announced the suspension of fees for public healthcare facilities. The move meant that hundreds of thousands of sick or injured people could access medical care, regardless of their financial status. For a country where half of all its residents have reported facing financial difficulties in the past in accessing healthcare facilities, this was a step in the right direction.

"This medical service is the first assistance we have received," said Jean Claude, speaking to World Vision a few weeks after the earthquake. His only daughter, one-and-a-half-year old Christel, had a swollen neck, fever, an ear infection, lack of appetite and wasn't sleeping well. A World Vision nurse at the mobile clinic where Jean Claude took his daughter suspected the little girl was suffering from tuberculosis and referred her to a local hospital.

In those early weeks, World Vision responded immediately to the health needs of the survivors, providing basic medical care for the injured and sick like Christel, delivering medical supplies to nearly a dozen local hospitals, and setting up mobile clinics in several camps throughout Port-au-Prince.

Now, nearly three months later, the Government of Haiti has expressed its desire to extend the end-user feeds for another three months. However, without the long-term commitment of international donors to fund such a move, there are still no guarantees that this action will result in affordable and accessible healthcare for Haitians. This is disappointing, and despite positive action by both the Government of Haiti and international donors immediately after the quake, a significant overhaul of the public health system is still needed if sustainable and affordable healthcare for Haiti's people is to be realized.

Within the international community, the momentum in the early days to respond to the health needs of the Haitian community has slowed down dramatically. As of mid-March, international donors had met only 62 percent of health needs under the UN Flash Appeal and a long-term commitment towards healthcare reform in Haiti has so far been inadequate.

Some believe that the emergency phase of the relief effort is over, but this is not the case. With well over half a million people still living in spontaneous settlements, and the rainy season only weeks away, hundreds of thousands of people remain acutely vulnerable.

As the rainy season approaches, a new and immediate crisis threatens Haiti. If adequate steps are not taken to prepare for the rains, water-borne diseases, dengue fever and malaria threaten to reach epidemic proportions. Without access to medical care, conditions will be ripe for disease outbreak - particularly for those living in displacement camps.

Positive steps have already been taken in the right direction to help those who are injured or sick to receive the care they so desperately need, but the momentum cannot stop there. International donors must continue to commit funds to rebuild and reform the country's healthcare system by meeting the needs laid out in the UN Flash Appeal and working toward a long-term reform of the health care system.

In order to meet the ongoing public health needs, the Government of Haiti should work towards permanent suspension of end-user feeds to help cover those who are most vulnerable--and will continue to be vulnerable--during the rainy season and beyond. Additionally, the Government of Haiti and the international community must prioritize interventions targeting hygiene and sanitation, malaria prevention and severe malnutrition both in the short- and long-term recovery plans.

Actions like these will help care for children like young Christel. It's not only a means to treat the immediate needs of the survivors but an effort to provide for their long-term health. They are Haiti's future.