Posted by: calloftheandes | December 15, 2010

Medical Team’s Long Shifts Stretched by Post-Election Unrest in Haiti

Treating Haitian cholera patients during a 13-hour overnight shift was tiring enough, but several Ecuadorian physicians found their napping afterwards interrupted when the call came to get up and go.

Writing of the short “night” earlier this week, team leader, Hermann Schirmacher said some had just dozed off when their hosts charged into the room saying, “You have 10 minutes to get ready and leave immediately to go to Bercy to relieve a medical team. By tonight we think there’s a possibility of protests.” Such protests are often accompanied by blocked streets and highways in Haiti.

This HCJB Global Hands team represents the sixth medical team from Ecuador working in Haiti following the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Schirmacher, a Paraguayan of German heritage, has led half the teams. Challenges have arisen before. His October team’s return to Ecuador looked tenuous as Hurricane Tomas raged through the Caribbean.

Thankfully, this team’s flight out of Port-au-Prince occurred without incident. Team members had only seen a few cholera patients, but the subsequent team focused solely on cholera patient care as the disease spread. The teams’ host, Samaritan’s Purse (SP), has also shifted all of its response to cholera patient care.

Having missed supper before their overnight shift, team members didn’t like the prospect of eating military meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) once they arrived in Bercy. But team leader, Schirmacher met this challenge. “I told the chef to hurry up so I could take along a decent meal for them,” he recounted, adding with a smile. “If not, I was going to take him along with us! We managed to pack on ice a nice meal with salads and some canned drinks.”

“We arrived at Bercy and reviewed the patients of the other shift,” Schirmacher continued. “This was quick so as to get them on their way to the SP base before nightfall.” Then with all patients stabilized, Schirmacher and the team sat down for a meal.

Other team members included family practice medical residents Dr. Ruth Jimbo and Dr. Betsabe Tello, family physician Dr. Joe Martin Isabel Manguia and two nurses, María Isabel Manguia (head emergency room nurse) and Silvia Ilcachiat from Hospital Vozandes-Quito.

Haitian health officials claim the cholera epidemic has already claimed more than 2,120 lives, but U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon believes the actual number of cholera infections and deaths could be twice as high as reported numbers. The disease is concentrated in slums and rural areas where accurate reporting is difficult.

The U.N. leader also cited estimates by the Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization that the epidemic could affect as many as 650,000 people in the next six months.

More than 60 patients were treated at the SP cholera treatment center in Bercy with 70 patients treated in Cité Soleil. “Usually 20 to 25 people would leave each day with the same number coming in,” Schirmacher explained. “Patients usually stayed two to three days.”

Since the cholera outbreak began in late October, SP teams have treated more than 3,829 cholera patients. Additionally, 20 water filtration systems have been installed in Cabaret.

Late on Tuesday, Dec. 7, thousands of people took to the streets in Port-au-Prince after first-round results of recent presidential elections were released. Demonstrations also erupted in several other cities.

Sources: HCJB Global, BBC, Samaritan’s Purse


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