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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Haiti, hospitals in disrepair

Posted by on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 10:36 AM

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This post is part of a week-long series from Engineering World Health, a nonprofit headquartered in Durham. A team of three biomedical engineers and technicians from EWH will be in Haiti from March 14 to 21 to assess and repair medical equipment at five clinics in the Port-au-Prince area. Our second post is written by Lora on Monday, March 15 after our first day in the hospital:

Perhaps the biggest misconception about our work here is that we are fixing everything that was damaged in the earthquake. Yes, we were brought here as part of the relief effort. But I hate to break your bubble: Most of this equipment was in very bad shape before the Richter scale read 7-plus.

Overall, we managed to fix seven pieces of equipment in a half day at one hospital. We recorded touching 15 pieces of equipment, some of which could easily be fixed with the correct parts—like a halogen bulb. The pieces that were fixed were addressed largely because of some knowledge beforehand that allowed us to bring the appropriate tools and replacement parts. Unfortunately, the hospital we visited today does not have a trained biomedical staff to do regular equipment maintenance. The designated technician wasn’t around quite enough for us to train him all that effectively. Fortunately, the nurses were well-versed in their equipment and very attentive to details. It’s exciting to see someone bring you something that is an easy fix, repair it and in the process, show them how to prevent or solve that problem in the future.

The trip home from our hospital seemed surreal. We had spent the night in the Dominican Republic the night before, so it was a rush from hotel to airport to hotel to first hospital this morning. When I finally got a chance to take in the scene on the way home, it was as if the news reels were running outside my window. Except they were life-size, complete with the smells and humidity, and the reporter’s narration was satisfyingly absent.

Our third team member, Jean Polycarpe, a biomedical technician in the U.S., grew up in southern Haiti. He has been instrumental on the trip in helping to repair anesthesia machines and other advanced medical equipment. We stopped on a rubble-filled street in front of a two-story house with collapsing balcony and crumbled foundation strewn about. This was his mother’s house, his home during high school and college. Now it was not even remotely liveable, all his belongings having been looted. As he mourned the loss of his personal library, we asked if he would tell his mother about the scene or show her the pictures we’d taken. “No, no… she doesn’t need to know this.”

For more info about EWH, please visit www.ewh.org or email info@ewh.org

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