Haiti’s health infrastructure is fragile, where it exists at all. People outside of Port-au-Prince have long suffered from a lack of acces to care, and people throughout the country struggle to find consistent, high-quality health care that they can afford. That’s why St. Boniface Hospital, tucked high in the mountains in rural southern Haiti, is such an anomaly. It draws people in need from across Haiti’s southern peninsula and beyond, with the promise of high-quality care regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.
That’s why the sudden closure of the only free emergency obstetric hospital in Port-au-Prince has been such a shock to the struggling Haitian health system. The hospital had been run for the past 8 years by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which made the decision to close based on funding and strategic priorities around the world. But the hospital’s closure, two months ahead of the formerly-announced schedule, left many women in need of maternal health and birthing care with nowhere else to turn.
At St. Boniface Hospital, we have seen the effects of the closure first-hand. We have seen multiple women arriving at St. Boniface Hospital each week who would have gone to the MSF hospital in Port-au-Prince if it were still open. Instead they were forced to make the long and arduous journey, often very close to their due dates or actively in labor, because that facility no longer exists.
One tragic story is that of Elisabeth (name changed to protect her privacy), whose neighbors brought her to a local clinic just outside of Port-au-Prince a week after the emergency obstetric hospital there had closed. Elisabeth was showing the classic signs of eclampsia, a dangerous condition of pregnancy that causes severe high blood pressure and can lead to seizures and often death. Elisabeth needed an emergency c-Section, without which both she and her baby would almost certainly die. But the clinic’s usual referral option, less than an hour away, was gone. So they called HERO Air Ambulance, one of the few medical air transportation companies in Haiti, and arranged for Elisabeth to be taken by helicopter to St. Boniface. There she had emergency surgery, which saved her life. Sadly, her baby did not survive his very premature birth, even with excellent round-the-clock care at St. Boniface Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. After a week at St. Boniface, recovering from the traumatic birth and an infection that she was also fighting, Elisabeth returned home, grief stricken by glad to be alive and able to return to her family.
As we see the effects of this hospital’s closure continue to impact the lives of women across Haiti, we expect more and more of them to make the journey to St. Boniface seeking care. Our busy Maternal Health Center is overflowing with women seeking prenatal and birthing care, with many women choosing to sleep outside on the hospital grounds in order to be first in line to see a doctor in the morning. We are working to ensure we have the capacity to see all of the patients every day, and thanks to your help we will continue to provide every woman who arrives at our doors with high-quality maternal health care.