Health & Medicine

Charity may harm Haiti's health

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(Image by Flickr user United Nations Photo (cc:by-nc-nd))

This story was originally reported by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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After the earthquake that struck Haiti in January, international doctors, nurses and medical equipment streamed into the country, providing much-needed care. The temporary abundance is forcing private hospitals out of business, as their patents leave for free clinics.

"To have a private hospital operating right now, in this situation, it's not possible." Reynold Savain, a radiologist and director of the CDTI Hospital told PRI's The World. CDTI once was a paragon of advancement in Haitian health care. The private hospital was had CT scans and other advanced technology, and catered to the wealthier residents who could afford the $25 consultation fee. After the earthquake, the hospital provided free health care to anyone who needed it. Today, it has been forced to shut down.

Savain says he was grateful to the foreign organizations for providing staff and equipment, but he really needed financial support, too. He said, "All these people wanted to give was medicine, medical supplies, and doctors, rotational doctors, and at one point I couldn't take it any more." At the end of March, deeply in debt to banks, staffers and pharmaceutical supply companies, Savain closed down the hospital.

Other private hospitals fear the same fate as CDTI. Michel Théard, a cardiologist and board member at Hopital Canapé Vert, told The World:

We have an average of 8 to 10 patients a day, which is not enough to maintain the hospital open. And the problem is that the NGOs are working giving the free care, so when they will leave, you will find nothing. The medical condition of Haiti will be worse than before.

Few can deny the help that the international NGOs provided after the earthquake. Even before the disaster, Jason Erb of the International Medical Corps (IMC) estimates that only 45 percent of people had access to health care, including both public and private. Some of the people helped by NGOs may have never received health care before

"I don't see MSF being responsible for destroying the private sector as has been said now,"Hans Van Dillen, Haiti mission chief for Doctors without Borders, told The World. "Well, not only MSF, of course, but the fact that there is free health care in Port-au-Prince is much more important."

Some NGOs have already begun to leave the country. The IMC, which had been running the Port-au-Prince's General Hospital, recently pulled out after the hospital's director asked them to leave. Erb told The World that the group's work was important, and it was difficult to leave: "It's difficult to stop providing that, but it's not something that can go on forever. And it's not something that helps to develop the health care system here in Haiti."

For that to happen, Haitians may have to help themselves.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."

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