Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Treating Hookworms in Haiti

The crowd was enormous. They numbered over three thousand, maybe as many as five, all competing for a place in the street flanking the school where we were setting up Med Site 1. Today was going to be intense.

Vanessa and Lt. Washington brought the last round of Haitian surgery patients from Med Site 1 to the ship yesterday. Now the functions of the two sites switch, with Med Site 2 in St. Louis du Nord screening for surgeries, and Med Site 1 in Porte de Paix hosting the wider medical operations.

We pulled up in the buses to the Lycée Tertulien Gibauld, a high school boasting architecture that looked like a cross between a medieval fortress and a modern artist’s apartment. The spiral staircase inside the atrium made of poured concrete reminded me of a middle-schooler’s paper-maché creation. An encircling concrete wall formed a solid barrier to the masses outside should they turn hostile.

Unfortunately, the school’s gate was too narrow to occupy our truck. It took all of our number to form a human chain to unload it.

The mayor of Porte de Paix Gaston Estima showed up to check on the proceedings and meet with Commander Rad. He conveyed his warm wishes and thanked us for our service to the town.
As soon as we let in the patients, the whole became very chaotic, just like it had at Med Site 2. Patients and translators rushed back and forth, all against the backdrop of the crowd’s constant murmur outside the wall.

Inside the medical room, Project HOPE doctors were hard at work. Team member Sandi McCormack assisted an aging man with an old rotator cuff injury, counseling him on arthritis and how to soothe muscle pain.

Unlike at Med Site 2, however, a new station had been created to help the townsfolk with hookworms. Hookworms are a gastrointestinal parasite that can prevent the intestines from properly absorbing nutrients. They are a significant scourge in Haiti for many who are already undernourished.

Team members Susan Eilermann and Sam Casscells helped man the table, with Steven Casscells translating from directions into French. They dispensed deworming pills to patients ten years old and up, and a liquid medicine to younger children. Some of the kids balked at a stranger giving them a cupful of yellow goo, but most accepted it dutifully.

In all, we assisted 477 patients today. The hookworm medicine will do wonders for the health of Porte de Paix’s citizens. But we’ve only seen a small fraction of those who came to wait outside the Lycée. There is still much to be done.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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