March 3, 2010

Quake spotlights nation's distress, nonprofit's resolve


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John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Friday. 01/15/2010 Matt Wickenheiser studio photo.

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Gordon Chibroski

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''The country faces this kind of emergency,'' he said. ''We could better manage if we had it.''

The funding was just approved; the office that approved it was razed in Port-au-Prince, all the workers there killed. The fate of the project is unknown.

More immediate is the damage Justinian Hospital suffered in the earthquake and its continuing aftershocks. Although there was relatively little damage, medical residents at the hospital say there are cracks in the walls -- some that have widened -- in their living quarters at the hospital and they are afraid to sleep inside. They have asked for tents, but none are available.

Konbit Sante is working with Maine Med and Dr. John Devlin there to set up a diabetes treatment program at the Justinian. Devlin, an endocrinologist, is on Konbit Sante's board and has been to the Justinian several times.

''We are a pioneer in the country with the project,'' Coq said.

Maine Med got the grant, said Nickerson, to improve care of this serious health problem.

''It can be as complicated to manage and as fatal as HIV, but nobody pays attention to it here,'' Nickerson said.


When you look at the problems of Haiti -- even without the earthquake -- they seem insurmountable.

Poverty is apparent throughout the interior of Cap Haitien. The hospital has no budget to work with, its main supporter is a tiny nonprofit from Maine.

People wait for hours for surgery because doctors have to sanitize the one set of orthopedic instruments they have between operations. Family members wave flies away from patients lying in hospital beds.

Many die here, and the entire hospital knows when that happens as the patient cries over and over again in a singsong -- ''Amwa, amwa, amwa,'' Creole for ''Help me.''

Get away from the hospital and its relatively middle-class neighborhood, and the poverty increases exponentially. In neighborhoods like Petite Anse and Fort Saint Michel, families live among garbage and pools of contaminated water, because no one else will. No one will kick the poorest from those places.

There's nothing like it in this hemisphere, said Nickerson.

Even with the flood of aid coming into the country because of the quake, individual scenes illustrate the depth of need.

In Cap Haitien, the city has arranged a running loop of up to 10 buses between Cap Haitien and Port-au-Prince to ferry people north. At the local gymnasium where the buses tend to drop off injured patients around midnight, a single Haitian nurse helps what has been up to 500 people at one time, said Nickerson, who was trying to coordinate volunteers to assist her.

At the same time, Nickerson is hearing that the medical ships have been filling up quickly and officials in Port-au-Prince will be much more aggressive about transporting people north. An influx of patients at Justinian is becoming more likely.

The Haitians are big on proverbs, Nickerson said, and one applies aptly to the work that Konbit Sante does. It translates, essentially, to ''Even the pee of a mosquito raises the level of the river.''

''Sometimes the issues and problems here are overwhelming, and you just think you can't do anything. But on the same hand, the problems and issues are so massive that it's amazing what a little group of people and a little bit of resources can do, what an incredible difference it can make in that kind of setting.

''It's kind of a paradox we live with.''


Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: People wait in front of the maternity unit at the Justinian Hospital on Tuesday, January 19, 2010. Konbit Sante pays for an OB/GYN doctor who works in the maternity unit and the clinic in Fort St. Michel.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: An earthquake victim sleeps in a wheelchair outside the entrance to the emergency room at the Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien on Wednesday, January 20, 2010. The steady flow of earthquake victims has taxed the hospital's already meager resources and, because the government in Port au Prince is in disarray and banks are closed, the hospital staff are not getting paid.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: A boy asks for money as foreigners walk past him on a street in Cap Haitien on Tuesday.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: A boy asks for money as foreigners walk past him on a street in Cap Haitien on Tuesday.


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