Public health pioneer Larry Mellon established Haiti’s Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) nearly 60 years ago, creating the world’s first sustainable model for effective, community-based healthcare delivery in the developing world. This commitment proved crucial five years ago when an unthinkable earthquake resulted in HAS being one of the only hospitals in Haiti that remained in continuous operation during the crisis – saving tens of thousands of lives and providing critical care, including surgery and prosthetics for more than 1,000 patients who required amputations. Today, HAS physicians and nurses – all Haitian – have adapted to new critical healthcare challenges that have emerged in the years following the natural disaster.
“In the aftermath of the earthquake, we had busloads of patients arriving for care, and we managed to provide it with the help of many important partners,” said HAS Board Chairman John Walton. “HAS continues to collaborate with the community to improve public health and save lives in Haiti – but in a metaphorical sense we are still experiencing aftershocks of the earthquake. Road improvements made possible through post-earthquake funding have resulted in more traumatic injuries from traffic accidents than ever before, putting a strain on emergency care. In addition, the population of the region served by HAS grew dramatically as people migrated out of Port-au-Prince, which has meant a greater demand than ever for the full range of HAS services.”
Operating at an average of 105 percent capacity over the past five years, HAS remains as a medical bedrock in Haiti. The organization has adapted to post-earthquake challenges through smart management, strategic partnerships, and through the support of individual donors, including government funders, such as USAID, and major foundations, such as the Ford Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Today HAS is the only full-service hospital serving a population of 350,000 people. It comprises a 131-bed hospital and four community health centers employing a network of 42 community health workers who are also members of the communities they serve. HAS community health workers conduct some 70 mobile clinics every month in some of the most remote rural regions of Haiti that are also among the most economically challenged in the country. Health workers provide immunizations, screening for malnutrition, reproductive health education and services, pre- and post-natal care for mothers and newborns, and a host of other vital preventative services.
HAS operates the largest prosthetics and orthotics clinic in the Caribbean, which, since the earthquake, has helped not only those injured in the quake, but also countless patients with conditions such as cerebral palsy or stroke who previously had nowhere to turn for prosthetic or orthotic care.
HAS also serves as a training ground for Haitian health care professionals. HAS has trained more than 150 physicians and other professionals in best healthcare practices since the earthquake, including nurses, physical rehabilitation technicians, laboratory technicians, and community health workers.
Over the past five years, HAS has played a significant role in helping to stem the spread of cholera, the deadly infectious disease that emerged in Haiti after the earthquake. The number of cholera cases in the HAS service area declined dramatically between 2011, when the hospital treated 4,677 cases, and 2014, when it treated just 36 cases.
“We can’t claim all of the credit for this decline,” said Walton. “But we definitely played a key role through our work to educate communities about clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and through our efforts to bring clean water and sanitation facilities to communities. We are proud of these efforts, which really raised community awareness of how this disease spreads and how to avoid it.”
Walton noted that many organizations are focused on improving education and developing the economy in Haiti.
“At HAS, we believe that the economic health of Haiti depends first and foremost on the physical health of its greatest asset – its people,” he said. “The work being done by organizations like HAS and our partners who are entrenched in the community – and largely run by Haitians themselves – are the most effective of all.”