Two weeks in Haiti with Empower and Advance

Shortly after the ride I spent two weeks in Haiti with Empower and Advance, one of R4WH’s 2013 beneficiaries. Empower and Advance’s goal in Haiti is to use video-based modules to train six community health workers to treat and triage emergencies. Through community health insurance, where community members will pay a small annual premium to have unlimited consultations with the community health workers, the program will be self-sustaining. For me this trip was an opportunity to see the beginnings of a program that will hopefully have a positive lasting impact on Haiti and its ailing healthcare system.

We got to Haiti on May 22nd and took a “tap-tap”– an open back pickup truck– from Cap Haitien where we flew into to Fort Liberte where the program is based. It was about an hour drive that let us see our surroundings: lush green vegetation, fairly unstable looking concrete buildings, few traffic lights, lots of children walking in school uniforms, many motorbikes, not much infrastructure. When we arrived in Fort Liberte, we settled into the Baptist church where we were staying and got ready for the next few days where we would be interviewing prospective community health worker candidates. We had about fifteen applicants come to interview the following day. After a math/verbal qualifying exam, several individual and group interviews and a working interview where the applicants went into the community to promote the program, we selected our group of six passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated candidates.

For the next two weeks, the group worked to train the students on areas such as the goals and expectations for the program, basic human anatomy, taking vital signs, conducting a well-baby exam and using their tablets to watch the training modules. We also used this time to work one-on-one with a few students who needed more intensive help in math. Of course, most of the community health workers (except one) did not speak English so all of the training was done through an interpreter. Besides the training component, we were also busy securing necessary government approvals and planning a community health fair to introduce the program to the community and educate community members on oral health, sanitation and skin care.

This type of program, especially the insurance component, is new and foreign in Fort Liberte. Change will not happen overnight but overall our trip was a success– the candidates are promising and eager to make a change and the community’s interest is piqued. I think we laid the groundwork for a program that has the opportunity to vastly improve Fort Liberte’s (and potentially Haiti’s) handling of medical emergencies and alleviate some of the burden on providers. I’m excited for the future of this program and am looking forward to staying involved as I start graduate school this fall.

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