Haiti: "We give our all to save lives"

An MSF nurse on providing vital medical care in the midst of widespread insecurity and economic hardship.

Insecurity in Port-au-Prince

Haiti 2023 © Pierre Fromentin/MSF

Claudia, a nurse supervisor at MSF's Turgeau Emergency Center in Port-au-Prince, describes how her team provides vital medical care in the midst of widespread insecurity and economic hardship.

For several years now, Haiti has been facing a serious problem of insecurity. The people of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area are facing many difficulties, because it is sometimes necessary to flee the violence of armed gangs in the neighborhoods, and there is currently nowhere where people feel safe.

When MSF's emergency center was in Martissant, it only took me five minutes to get to work from Carrefour, where I live. [MSF had to close the Martissant center in 2021 due to insecurity and subsequently opened an emergency center in another neighborhood, Turgeau]. Now, it takes me two hours to drive to work, but fortunately the team is very flexible. So when it's difficult to get to the hospital, team members are willing to carry on working until the others, who are delayed, are available.

Every day is unpredictable; this morning, for example, I arrived and everything went relatively smoothly. There were no problems on the road, it was just routine. Why did I say routine? Every time there's a bus on the Martissant road, we have to stop to give money to an armed group, and then they let us go. We shouldn't have to adapt to this kind of life, but unfortunately, we're in Haiti, trying to survive.

I arrived at the emergency center at 7:45 a.m. and, as a nurse supervisor, I had to organize the day. Like all week, there were a lot of children in the waiting room, because we're overwhelmed with pediatric cases. There are six beds for children, and they were already full, so we had to get organized. We have to adapt every day to the influx of children.

Access to health care in Port-au-Prince is difficult, and the cost of health care is high. When patients arrive at the Turgeau emergency center, they know they're going to receive free, high-quality care. It's a lot of work, but it's also a motivation for the team to stick together to help and support them.

Since May, Haiti has been facing an increase in cases of acute glomerulonephritis. This is a disease that affects the kidneys, following a throat infection or a poorly treated skin infection.

Haiti 2023 © Tim Shenk/MSF

When a child arrives with a probable case of acute glomerulonephritis, we can see that there is swelling of the face and limbs. There may also be lesions and pimples on the skin. When we check blood pressure, it's high in children aged between five and twelve. Sometimes they complain of a sore throat and often have a fever. Although we are a stabilization and referral center, it's difficult to find other medical facilities to refer these patients. We're overloaded, and parents often don't have the financial means to pay the fees demanded by the referral facilities. That's why the waiting room is so crowded.

What has changed most in Port-au-Prince in recent years? An increase in insecurity. There's also the population's response, with the organization of self-defense movements.

Here, we give our all to save lives. Every life is special, but there are people who take pleasure in killing, in hurting others, so it's horrible. Not just me, but the whole team, is committed to providing care to those who need it most. We save lives and that gives us a lot of satisfaction every day.