Though progress has been made in the six months since an earthquake devastated Haiti, challenges persist, says the executive director of a Portland-based nonprofit that works in Haiti’s second-largest city.
Nate Nickerson of Konbit Sante returned recently from almost five weeks in Cap Haitien, one of Portland’s sister cities. Konbit Sante has worked for about a decade to improve the public health care system in Cap Haitien, in partnership with local officials.
The earthquake on Jan. 12 caused widespread destruction in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Cap Haitien, about 90 miles north of the capital, wasn’t damaged, but thousands of refugees made their way there, many with serious injuries.
Konbit Sante’s work was documented by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram immediately after the earthquake. Pictures taken by photographer Gregory Rec are on display at the Starbucks coffee shop in Portland’s Old Port, at the corner of Exchange and Middle streets.
Nickerson said many Cap Haitien residents have taken in family members who fled Port-au-Prince. That extra population has stressed the city, Nickerson said.
After the earthquake, Konbit Sante raised about $450,000. The nonprofit has used the money to support the Justinian Hospital, the teaching hospital where Konbit Sante has focused its work over the years.
Konbit Sante provided critical medical equipment, such as X-ray films, and necessities such as fuel for generators, and helped pay for supplies at the hospital pharmacy.
Nickerson said the earthquake has made the political and funding landscapes more difficult to navigate in Cap Haitien.
A shipping container full of medical supplies left Maine in May, and has yet to be taken from the docks in Cap Haitien. Funds that were promised to rebuild the Justinian Hospital’s orthopedics/rehabilitation center have dried up, Nickerson said.
In response, Konbit Sante has focused on hiring human resources instead of working on capital projects, Nickerson said.
The nonprofit has hired health workers and a nurse to work with an obstetrician in Cap Haitien’s poorest neighborhoods.
It has brought on another person to help manage supplies and purchases. It has started a diabetes project, with a nurse and two health care workers. And Konbit Sante is hiring a full-time wound care nurse to address continuing care of some of the earthquake victims.
The nonprofit is also trying to plan for future needs, with the uncertainty of continued fundraising efforts, Nickerson said.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: