Medical Experts Say Haitians Will Need Health Care Help for Years to Come

Pooja The BBC recently reported that medical organizations with members serving the Haitian communities affected by the earthquake on January 12th warn that one of the larger issues for Haitians will likely be the need for increased medical supplies, such as prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services.

Concerned about infection, doctors in Haiti have had to amputate the limbs of a great many injured patients. In addition to the need for such resources as medical devices and prosthetic equipment, doctors are also still in need of simple medications. Antibiotics are needed to prevent the spread of infections and painkillers to help damaged patients simply make it through the day.

Because many of the country’s hospitals were also destroyed by the earthquake, doctors in Haiti are performing most care in makeshift open areas. And in such environments, infection spreads fast. Though the few hospitals that are running are reported to be in relatively well-organized condition, many of the patients in those hospitals are not leaving as they have nowhere else to go, except perhaps the streets– where infections await their open wounds. So they stay, Doctors are left with fewer and fewer areas to treat, and the number of patients increases. To remedy the situation, there are plans at present to quickly build a convalescent center.

The present medical needs are only the beginning. The concerns of some medical experts extend to the years after the media eye has turned away from Haiti, after the NGOs have left the country, and after foreign doctors have returned to their home-countries. These experts worry about how the Haitians that are being treated today will be able to continue with one less leg or one less arm in the future. Without proper rehabilitation services or necessary follow-up medical care, many Haitians will lack the physical capabilities to rebuild their lives. Mark Hyman, a doctor and volunteer with Partners In Health, calls these future medical needs of the injured Haitian community the “third wave,” and he finds that such aid is not yet realized:

Soon, very soon, there is the need for rehabilitation, helping the thousands with lost or broken limbs get back on their feet or foot again. There are no physical therapists, no facilities, and no place for them to go for care. As the immediate surgical needs are slowly addressed, the psychological needs explode magnified by each minor aftershock.

Some medical device companies have already donated supplies to aid the doctors’ efforts as well as money to support the other necessary aid efforts in Haiti. While such donations are helping address an urgent need, they are being outpaced by the number of amputations being performed. Hope lies in the idea that health care systems will be put in place before the external help exits; that prosthetic devices will ultimately be made available to the patients that need them; and that Haitian medical workers are trained to be able to properly care for those who cannot care for themselves.

The needs of the Haitian people are great, and the impact of this disaster will be felt for years to come. Please give to help those who are working hard towards rebuilding Haiti. Click here to find a list of the different organizations through which you can donate. And if you happen to be a part of a prosthetic device company which wants to do something amazing, we’d love to write the story.

Pooja Awatramani is a law student at Seton Hall University, School of Law and a regular contributor to Health Reform Watch. She graduated from Boston College in 2007 with a B.S. in Biology and Philosophy. From 2007-2009, she worked as a Program Associate for the National Institute for Reproductive Health in New York. One of her primary responsibilities while at the National Institute was monitoring health care reform. Specifically, she evaluated health care reform bills and proposals to determine how each would affect women’s access to health care. She met with Congressional leaders to discuss health reform bills and advise the bills’ sponsors on how to ameliorate gaps in health care coverage for women.

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