Haiti, One Year Later

01.14.11: Making baby steps


A year ago I blogged about pregnant women destined to deliver amidst the rubble after the earthquake in Haiti. I hoped that one year later, everything would be different, better. In some ways, it is. In many ways, however, new disasters, disease, political unrest and longstanding poverty conditions mean that instead of making great strides toward recovery, Haiti is making baby steps.

Last year, 37,000 women were known to be pregnant at the time of the earthquake. Women like Julietter who was seven months along and Joane, who delivered in public on a pile of cardboard packing boxes. Or Saluka who’s newborn developed diarrhea and Marie-Michele who had no idea how and where she’d deliver her breech baby. There were no hospitals, no medical supplies and no clean water.

I asked my friends at CARE what happened to these women. Did Saluka’s baby survive? Did Marie-Michele have a safe delivery? No one knew. There’s no way to know where they are now. They may have moved to other cities or makeshift camps or they may be among at least 1600 who have died from cholera.

Sabine Wilke, staff member for CARE Haiti told me about a woman she met last February. “Guerda, was seven months pregnant and living in a miserable shelter made of flimsy cotton sheets held up by wooden sticks. Inside, her family bed consisted of blankets placed on a pile of gravel. There was no prenatal bliss about Guerda’s situation, no happy expectations. Instead: Worries, fears and plain misery.

The hospitals that remained standing have been full of trauma patients with no space for delivery units. The risks for infection and lack of staff and supplies mean many women have had a better chance of a safe delivery in their tents than at the hospital. Sabine’s healthcare team gave Guerda a clean delivery kit - gloves, plastic sheets, razor blades and a few other items to ensure a somewhat sterile birthing environment and a newborn kit with tiny clothes and a blanket.

Eleven months later, Sabine recognized Guerda at another CARE distribution site; this one for cholera prevention supplies like soap and hygiene. Guerda had been lucky. She traveled to a hospital via public transportation. The driver recognized she was in labor and didn’t charge her for the ride. Once there, she developed complications and was transported to better-equipped hospital where she delivered safely. When Sabine saw Guerda again, her son was asleep in her arms. She reported that she, her husband and five kids still lived in a camp, but the walls were now made of plastic sheeting that kept some of the rain out and they had one real mattress.

What do CARE’s baby steps look like? When you add them up, they look like miracles.

CARE’s focus on women and girls means many projects are aimed at improving day-to-day life and making traditional “women’s work” safer and easier. For example:

• Nearly half the participants in their cash-for-work activities are women.

• They’re working with traditional midwifes and local hospitals on a referral system for prenatal care and birth services and making sure women who have no other option than to deliver in their tents have the right supplies and information.

CARE has:

• Built 800 latrines and 140 showers at 60 sites.

• Installed 23 water bladders in 21 locations,

• Brought clean drinking water to 45,000 people.

• They’re working to prevent violence against women in the camps at 14 different sites with programs covering gender-based violence, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and family planning.

• They’ve opened more than 20 women's centers that provide counseling and referrals for reproductive health and support for pregnant women, prenatal consultations, breastfeeding and neonatal care and education about danger signs during pregnancy and how to use clean delivery and newborn kits.

With sanitation a high priority to reduce the spread of cholera, CARE has:

• Purchased 10 mobile vacuum trucks to remove human waste from camps.

• Developed 43 latrine-cleaning committees and 76 site-cleaning committees

• Installed waste bins so camp-families have somewhere to put trash.

• They continue distributing hygiene kits.

Imagine how important these things are in your life as an expecting or brand new parent. Simple things like a waterproof place to live, somewhere to go to the bathroom, somewhere to wash and water to wash with. Somewhere to go for prenatal care and the basic supplies and shelter necessary for a safer, cleaner and more dignified birth.

What can you do? CARE is my favorite, but many other reputable and effective organizations, like The Girl Effect and Mercy Corps share CARE’s work and mission. Donate if you can or find another way to help. CNN lists five ways you can help Haiti recover now.

I’d also like to extend an invitation to join CARE supporters from all over the world at the National CARE Conference and 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day celebration in Washington DC. You’ll learn about global poverty eradication and humanitarian opportunities and put that knowledge into direct action by helping CARE storm Capitol Hill. This year’s keynote speakers are Laura Bush and Melinda Gates. The conference is fun, exciting and by attending, you’ll be getting involved in helping women around the world live fuller, healthier lives. That might be the second best thing you do this year. The first obviously, is having your baby.

All images courtesy of CARE

Photo 1: Evelyn Hockstein/CARE

Photo 2: Sabine Wilke/CARE

Photo 3: Sabine Wilke/CARE

"¨"¨"¨Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.