Louisville organizations are shipping nearly $95,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment to a new children’s hospital in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries that has been devastated twice in the last few years by powerful natural disasters.
A 40-foot container filled with respirators, incubators, defibrillators, infant warmers, microscopes, hospital beds, urine analyzers, oxygen concentrators and other equipment and supplies is projected to reach Gonaïves, Haiti, in August.
The care package is being sent by local organizations including Supplies Over Seas and the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance, which has a cancer screening clinic in Gonaïves, a city of 300,000 on Haiti’s west coast.
“We’re really quite excited about this,” Dr. Robert Hilgers, founder and president of WGCA, told Insider on Tuesday.
Hilgers, a gynecologic oncologist and professor emeritus at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, said the equipment and supplies, even though some of it is older and used, would provide needed services that would help save the lives of newborns and children. The local effort also is being supported by Second Presbyterian Church, The Cralle Foundation and other donors.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with nearly 60 percent of the 10.5 million residents living below the national poverty line. About 40 percent of Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming. About 40 percent of Haitians over age 15 cannot read or write. Its per capita GDP is $1,800. For comparison, the per capita GDP in the U.S. is $57,300.
A devastating earthquake in 2010 destroyed much of the country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, and economic growth has been hampered by political uncertainty, drought, decreasing foreign aid, diseases and natural disasters. Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, struck Haiti in October with wind speeds of 140 mph, affecting about 2.1 million people and causing extensive damage to crops, houses, livestock and infrastructure across Haiti’s southern peninsula.
The new children’s hospital will be the first in Gonaïves and is led by Dr. Ariel Henry, a former health ministry official in Haiti. Hilgers knows Henry through his work on the island nation.
Hilgers said that while the new hospital won’t be nearly as sophisticated as the likes of Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, it will have solid capabilities to treat ordinary, acute illnesses.
Hilgers said that supporting the hospital aligns with the mission of the WGCA’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Clinic, which tries to detect cancer very early, before it requires chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments.
Early detection is critical to the women’s survival, Hilgers said, because the required care is not available in Haiti, nor could the patients afford it. About 1,500 women die annually from cervical cancer in Haiti, a rate that is 50 times higher than in the U.S., according to the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections.
Hilgers said that early detection allows medical staff to kill the precancerous cells by freezing the cervix, a treatment that is effective in about 90 percent of the cases. However, the doctor said that persuading people in a low-resource country to see the benefits of preventive medicine provides a special challenge. Haitians who are not sick tend to want to avoid incurring costs for seeing a doctor, Hilgers said.
Since the WCGA established its clinic just over a year ago, it has screened 1,000 women, he said. The Louisville organization established and financially supports the clinic, which is staffed by four Haitians.