After my stays in Haiti in 2013 and 2014, I had to take a break in 2015 to attend college for my master’s degree. So I was looking more forward than ever to working hand in hand with the best CPO team in Haiti for the third time in 2016. This year again, I asked myself how the CPOs and, ultimately the patients too, could continue to profit after I’d left. But this became apparent during my stay there.
This year I was able to spend three weeks on the island. I spent the first two in the medi lab in Deschapelles. During this time I worked together with the CPOs and patients in the workshop as well as out in the field in Saint Marc and Meballee. My daily work was concerned with lower limb prostheses as well as orthoses for the torso and limbs. Most of the prostheses were still being made mostly of plastic using the lay-up technique in a vacuum I had become familiar with during my previous visits. Although the workshop is equipped for producing medical devices made of fibre glass or carbon fibre composite components, the customs situation in Haiti is so complicated that delays of up to five months for deliveries are by no means rare.
In my last report I drew attention to the fact that orthotic modular components are rare assets indeed in the Haitian workshops although so many patients depend on these medical devices. I talked to friends and colleagues at home and asked them to clear out their workshop drawers and to make up a box full of orthotic hinges and supports. So finally 5 kg of these parts filled up my luggage to the maximum weight of 23 kg. Once I had arrived in Haiti I was promptly able to provide a young woman with a full leg prosthesis. She hadn’t been able to walk for some time because she was affected by paralysis of that leg.
A reasonably priced solution for the problem of “orthotic modular components” could, for instance, be a sort of modular component pool at medi in Bayreuth. Companies would be given the option of sending parts they can’t reuse to medi. It would also be useful to have an Internet forum in which past and future volunteers can swap news and views and ask medi about possible capacity in the luggage of those going next. This way the parts needed could be transported to Deschapelles in the most simple way, because much of what is classed as scrap here and is not suitable for reuse according to the German Medical Devices Act can completely change the life of a person in a third world country. I’m convinced the patients would be very grateful!
I spent the last week of my stay in Haiti’s capital in a workshop for orthopaedic technology located next door to the St. Vincent‘s Centre for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince that is also financed by medi for help. The focus on the work here is in the field of orthotics, and I decided to hold a seminar on the subject with both theoretical and practical sessions. The aim of the 5-day seminar was to revise their theoretical knowledge of anatomy, pathology and biomechanics. In the following practical sessions the CPOs were given the opportunity to make up orthoses for each others’ lower legs and thus to broaden their skills. They were able to feel on their own bodies how different heel heights, calf/ground angle, cut of the orthosis and volume problems feel. The “patient’s” gait was then assessed during the following gait analysis, and he described how he felt in the orthosis his colleagues had fabricated. The CPOs attended the sessions with great eagerness and a keen interest, and the first “wow effects” weren’t long in coming.
Since learning by doing is one of the best ways of assimilating understanding, I very much hope that some of those who attended the seminar will think back to what they learned when planning orthoses in the future.
There are still many patients in Haiti who still have to be cared for due to the earthquake, but there are also many people who rely on the help of the organisation “medi for help” after road traffic accidents, or because of paralysis or deformities. I am very glad I was given the opportunity of taking part in this fantastic project again, and I can only appeal to everyone and tell them how important it is to support the organisation both financially and with well trained volunteers who can pass on their knowledge.