Five Years in Haiti

On January 12 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated Haiti. Today, as Haiti faces ongoing political unrest, its citizens remain dedicated to stabilizing their shaken country.

On January 12 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated Haiti, killing 220,000 people and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses, schools, government buildings and health facilities. The entire infrastructure of an already fragile country was demolished and millions became homeless. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and more than 70 percent of its rural citizens lived in abject poverty. When a Cholera epidemic hit in the months that followed, conditions grew even worse. Even today, as Haiti faces ongoing political unrest, its citizens remain dedicated to stabilizing their shaken country.

Maternal health rates are often a great indicator for the overall health of a country and of course, it’s what we at EMC watch closely. In Haiti, the maternal mortality ratio in 2005 was 420 deaths per 100,000 live births. Between 2008 and 2012, when most healthcare facilities were destroyed or inoperable, only 9 percent of the poorest women delivered with skilled birth attendants, and the mortality rate grew to 650 deaths for every 100,000. Domestic violence was rampant, emergency camp conditions were dangerous and food, water, sanitation, health services, employment and education opportunities were scarce. You couldn’t find a more desperate place to be a mother than in post-earthquake Haiti.

In the months that followed, humanitarian and emergency assistance poured in and food, shelter, water sources, sanitation facilities and emergency health facilities were established. International donors raised $6.43 billion for reconstruction and USAID contributed $450 million. Gradually, living conditions improved, though even now the country remains desperately impoverished.

Every Mother Counts has traveled to Haiti frequently and we’ve seen encouraging strides in the country’s ability to provide safe, skilled maternal health care, improved educational and employment opportunities and the development of some excellent healthcare facilities. We’ve worked closely with Midwives for Haiti to train Haitian women and men to become midwives. With Partners in Health we’ve witnessed the construction of the stunning Mirebalais health center, the first comprehensive teaching hospital of its kind in Haiti. And, we’ve helped provide continuing maternal health education for hospital staff and community health workers that have strengthened care services for women in rural areas.

We’ve been inspired by Haiti’s resilience and our partners’ commitment to provide care for Haiti’s mothers. We’ve been included in hospital Grand Rounds, where doctors share their knowledge with each other and with staff on topics like preeclampsia and hemorrhage management. We’ve listened as newly trained midwives explain to their patients that the seizures, swelling and hypertension that’s responsible for between 20 and 50 percent of maternal deaths, is treatable. We’ve admired how they provide respectful and culturally appropriate education to women whose health beliefs are closely knit with their religious beliefs. Most of all, we’ve learned that despite its’ poverty, Haiti is rich with culture, art, history and beauty and mothers who provide the best for their children, despite limited resources.

In the five years since that earthquake, we’ve seen countless examples of hope, and progress. Millions more people now have access to improved water and sanitation, healthcare, education and employment opportunities. We’re seeing improvement in maternal health conditions that will grow with continued support. The numbers are still dire (380 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births), but we’re optimistic and committed. We’re continuing our support to train midwives who will provide maternal and reproductive healthcare to women who otherwise would go without. In a country where only 32 percent of women receive prenatal care, 65 percent give birth at home, where there’s only 1 midwife for every 50,000 people and 0.4 doctors per 1000 people, we know the work we’re doing matters. Student by student, midwife by midwife — that’s what we’re doing in Haiti to make sure Every Mother Counts.

Our friend and board member, Heather Armstrong wrote a powerful blog about her recent trip with EMC to visit Cabestor, the new birth center in rural Haiti that our grant will help to build, equip and operate. Read about it here and learn more about the people we love and the partnerships and bonds we’ve formed in Haiti.

Topics: Childbirth, Human Rights, Maternal Health