Monday, July 5, 2010

The Gros Morne Cancer Detection Team (from left, Fils Gardy, MD, Orna Louise, RN, Michael Viola, MD, Clarice Carroll, RN, Jackie Picard, RN)

Orna Louise, MFP nurse educator, instructing a group of women
about the essentials of a female examination at the Alma Mater Hospital.

The Poto Mitan

Anyone who knows Haiti from the inside knows that women are the “poto mitan” (central pillar) of the society. It is they who are often left to carry on with the children while fathers are off to foreign lands or to larger cities trying to eke out a living. Or it is they who are left with the children when the men have abandoned there responsibilities to the children they have fathered. The women are often the ones who are the “bread winners” since their work of selling in the market place goes on (more or less) in spite of earthquakes, hurricanes, political unrest or a failing economy. This is just the way it is, and the women carry this position with dignity and courage. So with this background in mind, you can imagine what happens when a women falls sick or dies.” - Jacqueline Picard, RN

Because of the central role of women in Haitian society, and the poor health of Haitian women, Medicine For Peace has planned a Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) for a number of months. Because women have suffered disproportionately following the January 12th earthquake, we felt an increased urgency to rapidly initiate the project. Haitian women have one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the world, and the country has limited facilities to treat advanced disease. Therefore, the first aspect of the WHI was a cervical cancer screening program designed to detect early cervical cancer in all women between 30-60 years of age in the Gros Morne region. The medical team is a collaboration of Haitian (Dr. Fils Gardy, gynecologist, Ms. Orna Louise, RN) and U.S. (Clarice Carroll, a GYN nurse practitioner from the University of Mississippi, Jackie Picard, RN, Dr. Michael Viola, an oncologist) health workers. This summer we are joined by two medical students from University College Dublin Medical School. The program has had strong support from women’s groups, and civic and religious organizations in the area.

In the first month of the program, gynecological exams have been performed on more than 400 women, and it is anticipated that we shall screen and care for between 1500-2000 women in the first year of the program. In addition to detecting a number of early cervical cancers, we have discovered a wide range of medical problems in the women we have examined, and we shall provide them with continuing care. Health education is a major part of the program, and Ms. Orna Louise has been trained as a nurse educator to reach out to women(see photo). The program is now focused at the Alma Mater Hospital in Gros Morne, but in the coming year, we shall employ mobile clinics to care for women in more remote regions surrounding Gros Morne.