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In Haiti's South, Aid, Health Care Hard to Find
Tom Tracy
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010
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CAYES-JACMEL, Haiti (CNS)—Hyppolite Lappe, an agronomics student, stood in a long line at a health clinic run by American volunteers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. His elderly mother was by his side.

He watched as tempers flared under a hot August sun while people pushed and shouted trying to get to the registration table.

"Haiti has so many difficult situations," said Lappe, who was displaced by Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake. "People have lost their homes, jobs. They cannot find food to feed their families and there are few doctors here."

Then he turned to ask the volunteers if he could move his elderly mother to the front of the long lines. They politely declined; other elderly people were in line waiting, too.

The clinic is one of the few options for health care in the region since the quake, which left most of the local hospital in nearby Jacmel in ruins. Visiting Swiss and Cuban doctors have provided intermittent medical care in the Cayes-Jacmel area, but there has been little more help for the sick and injured.

The temblor not only destroyed large sections of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince 45 miles away but damaged an estimated 70 percent of homes in the Jacmel region on Haiti's southern shore.

The area has received little aid despite its proximity to Port-au-Prince. Rough mountain roads between the capital and the region are difficult to traverse. Refugees from the city still crowd the way.

Within days of the earthquake, Canadian military troops arrived to help with the initial emergency response and reopen the nearby regional airport. Weeks later, however, the Canadians left and the airport closed, cutting off much of the emergency supplies.

Jean-Baptist Andre of Jacmel was among dozens of people waiting in line at the clinic in August. After five months in tents, an uncle from Port-au-Prince helped Andre's family build a simple two-bedroom house that now houses six relatives. Like a lot of new housing, the structure is built in the same unsupported style that contributed to the hundreds of thousands of injuries and at least 230,000 deaths in the country.

"Haiti is like hell right now," said Andre, who was visiting the clinic with two friends seeking psychological counseling. "It was hard before the earthquake and now it is worse. I am a young person with an education. I speak English. I am better than good enough for work, but I can't find a job."

The Jacmel region also faces the challenge of absorbing thousands of Haitians who fled the chaos of the capital. Not only is the region more crowded, straining local resources, but the displaced people brought new strains of viruses with them, leading to widespread illness, said Phanel Chery, a seminarian on the staff of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish.

"Many people left Port-au-Prince to come here because their houses broke, but many of the houses here are also broken," said Chery, who has finished seminary studies and awaits ordination. "Still the Haitian people say they love and depend on God."
Father Yves Pardo, Our Lady of Mount Carmel's pastor, said people remain traumatized more than seven months after the earthquake.

"The damage was great. There were 275 houses down in this area, and all the families spent months living on the street without even a tent," he said.

"They were victimized by everything. Kids were raped, many lived on soccer fields, and many people came in from Port-au-Prince and spent a long time without any help," he said.

A recent assessment by the Haiti Advisory Group of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that three Jacmel parishes were destroyed and the cathedral in town sustained enough damage that engineers deemed it unsafe to use.

Father Pardo said the parishioners originally were afraid to enter the church, but that eventually he decided to resume celebrating Mass indoors. During a tour of the church, he pointed to fractures in the building's exterior as well as to interior support columns. He hopes the structure can be reinforced rather than demolished and rebuilt.

"And now we try to rebuild ourselves as people," the priest said. "All the consequences of this were because we were not prepared for this. Everyone now is in provisionary mode -- we don't really know when to rebuild or what to rebuild or what tomorrow will bring. God did not do this, but we are still afraid of tomorrow."

At the clinic, Fernando Pino, a psychiatrist from Miami, met two local residents who were seeking relief from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological ailments. One patient is a 15-year-old boy; the other a man who lost his wife in the disaster.

"The hallmark of PTSD is nightmares and reliving the experience again and again," Pino said. "Both of these patients were having that. The boy says he still feels the earthquake.

"I prescribed them both anti-depressants that will help them sleep," he said. "Ideally they would also go for talk therapy, but that is not going to happen here, unfortunately."

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