Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MFP Campaign For Haitian Women

A small tent city on the outskirts of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince

Since the January 12th earthquake, Haiti has become an island of grim statistics: more than 230,000 people dead, 2 million people displaced, and 1.3 million living in temporary settlements. Unfortunately, we have become use to the tent and tarpaulin camps that are scattered through center city and outskirts of Port-au-Prince, and wonder how many years it will take to dismantle them. What is not often mention is that this tragedy has placed a disproportionate burden on Haitian women, who suffered higher death rates, now have lower income and more physical insecurity than do Haitian men. The tent cities are particularly hazardous for women. In addition to living in squalid conditions, there is the constant threat of sexual violence particularly in the poorly lit camps at night, women have to bathe in public, and often find themselves sleeping next to strangers.

There has been a long history of lack of human rights and insecurity for women in Haiti. The United Nations Development Fund for Women has published statistics concerning the status of Haitian women prior to the earthquake. Haitian women are frequently victimized by domestic and sexual violence, are often the primary caregivers to children and dependents, and have the highest illiteracy rates (40-60%) in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Because of the critical role that women have in Haitian society, Medicine For Peace has joined with a coalition of women’s organizations and with the Alma Mater Hospital to develop a women’s health initiative for the upper Artibinite region.

Children before classes at the Foni Bo School in Gros Morne

The women’s initiative touches many aspects of the lives of girls and women. We have begun a house construction program to provide secure single family homes for displaced people from Port-au-Prince who have returned to Gros Morne. Our partner, the Children’s Scholarship Fund for Girls has committed to the long term support of a number of teachers and girls at the Foni Bo primary school in Gros Morne. In addition to providing an excellent foundation on which to build further education, the school provides two nutritious meals each day.

The cornerstone of our program is the women’s health initiative at the Alma Mater Hospital. The MFP cancer detection program initiated in the spring of 2010 has screened more than 900 women for cervical cancer and other gynecological disorders. We anticipate screening more than 2000 women in the first year of the program. There is a high incidence of cervical cancer in Haiti and we have detected a large number of women in the early curable phase of the disease. The GYN program has been expanded to screen for breast cancer, high blood pressure, and all sexually transmitted infections. By the first end of this year, we intend to have initiated a psychiatric support network to provide community mental health services which are currently lacking in this region.

.Dr. Michael Viola and Jacqueline Picard, RN discuss early cervical cancer detection with a women's group in Gros Morne.

The present success of the program is due in large part to the support of the community, particularly women's groups. Our nurses spend considerable time in outreach, talking frequently to scohol and community organizations, and are frequently featured on local radio stations. The program has taught us that Haitian women are deeply aware of the importance of their health, and that of their children, and will enthusiastically participate in programs that will improve their health when those resouces are made available to them.

Orna Louise Dieunane, RN, who with Clarice Carroll, RN, NP run the cervical cancer detection clinic.