A Day In The Life Of A Haitian Public Health Nurse

Hope for Haiti's medical program brings consultations and care to communities across the country.

By the time Claudine Francois and Evanie St. Paul, public health nurses at Hope for Haiti's clinic in Les Cayes, arrive for work, the line of patients hoping to be seen that day is already at least 40 people. At 8 a.m., the clinic's doors will open, and the doctors, nurses, and dentist on staff will see 40, 50, 60 patients — as many as they can — until the doors close again at 4 p.m. For some patients, this will be the first time they are seeing a doctor. Some have traveled over three hours to get here. 

The clinic — and larger public health outreach initiative — is one of several programs established and maintained by Hope for Haiti, a non-profit that has been working for over 30 years in the country. Hope for Haiti recently brought A Plus to the island to see firsthand how such initiatives can make a difference in the lives of the country's people. 

At the clinic, Francois and St. Paul are never sure what they'll be doing that day until they arrive. Sometimes they'll help take patients' vital signs before they see the doctor. Sometimes, they work at the pharmacy. Sometimes, they'll see patients in the clinic's wound care facility. 

"I'll go everywhere all day," St. Paul said. "I'm anywhere."

St. Paul helps to take the height of a child during a mobile clinic visit to Morency Emily Becker / A Plus

Until recently, the clinic in Les Cayes was one building split into two consultation rooms and a lab. In 2012, a second building was constructed that allowed Hope for Haiti to add a dentist and more nurses and doctors to their staff, which translated into the staff's ability to see more patients each day. The care an individual receives at the clinic is not only cheaper – Hope for Haiti charges a 100-gourdes consultation fee compared to the 1000 gourdes someone would pay at a public hospital – it is safer and more sanitary as well. For more serious cases, Hope for Haiti has set up a referral program that covers a patient's transportation and medical fees for he or she to seek treatment at another facility.

"In Haiti, it is very difficult for people to find health care because there is a lack of doctors, lack of nurses, lack of health professionals," Francois said. "When they come here, they find some satisfaction."

A child holds a hygiene kit and Nutrilife pack after a wellness check-up at the Hope for Haiti mobile clinic. Emily Becker / A Plus

Days when they are not in the clinic, Francois and St. Paul are in the field. Each month, members of the Hope for Haiti medical staff travel to communities in southern Haiti to bring medications, treatments, and knowledge to those who are unable to travel to Les Cayes. 

Today, Francois and St. Paul, along with Dr. Steeve Victor, the community health program manager, are in Morency for a distribution of Nutrilife, a nutrient-dense powder given to children to help prevent malnutrition. In addition to the mobile clinic, Hope for Haiti also sponsors a school in the community and has offered trainings in entrepreneurship to some of the parents of the children who attend the school. The staff will spend all day in Morency — a bumpy 50-minute ride from Les Cayes — noting children's height and weight, taking blood samples and talking with mothers. 

While the days can be long and unpredictable, Francois and St. Paul believe that it's part of their duty as public health workers to seek out those who need medical care and are unable to travel to a clinic — no matter how remote their location. 

"It is very difficult for people to find care in Haiti because of political and economic problems," Francois said. "And there are a lot of communities where people can't find anywhere to go when they are sick... When we go to these communities, they are very happy for the help that we bring."

Cover image via Lee Cohen / Hope for Haiti

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