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International Women’s Day Special Report: Women’s Health in Haiti

This Magazine Staff

Getting the word out about a free hospital for pregnant Haitian women
(photo by Isabelle Jeanson for Médecins sans Frontières)

The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti has suffered as a result of international intervention for over five hundred years. The damage continues to this day, in the form of desperate poverty and extreme brutality. Some of those at greatest risk are women.
Last year, the medical journal The Lancet estimated that in the year following 2004’s armed insurrection against the Haitian government, 8,000 murders and 35,000 acts of sexual assault occurred in the area surrounding the capital Port au Prince alone. More recently, the BBC reported that some UN troops deployed in the distraught nation have been accused of sexual violence against children.
And with Haiti’s for-profit healthcare model, the most vulnerable suffer. In the dozens of slums surrounding Port au Prince, women were forced to give birth at home in unsanitary conditions, without the benefit of electricity, latrines or even running water. Until Médecins sans Frontières got involved, that is. MSF opened Jude Anne Hospital one year ago, strategically locating it so the poorest women in the capital city could easily travel there. The hospital offers emergency obstetric care to poor pregnant women, for free. It also offers support for those who have been sexually assaulted, and provides anti-retroviral treatment to deter mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

In the Post Marchan slum, thousands live surrounded by garbage and open sewage
(photo by Isabelle Jeanson for Médecins sans Frontières)

The hospital has just over 50 beds—but hundreds of women seek help there every day. So a fast turnaround is essential. About 4 hours can be devoted per standard birth; women who undergo Caesarean sections can recuperate there for two days. Still, the efforts of the hospital staff greatly increase the odds for women and children in a country where, the MSF points out, there are 523 maternal deaths for every 100,000 childbirths (compared with 20 deaths on average in Western nations).
Jude Anne Hospital saves lives. Many of its patients experience high-risk medical complications where an attempt at home birth would likely kill the mother, or child, or both. Still, even managing to get to the hospital can be a fateful risk. In the slums of Port au Prince, random violence such as shootings and kidnapping are daily occurrences. A lot of the births take place in the hallways or even in the parking lot. As Sarah Senbeto, one midwife working at Jude Anne, told MSF: “Sadly enough, we can only help a small portion of the women in Port au Prince. We can only save those who make it this far.”
MSF is on a mission to let the world know the struggles facing the poor women of Haiti. Find out more here.

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