Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (Deschapelles, Haiti) – A portrait
The Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti is located in Deschapelles in the Artibonite valley in central Haiti, about 80 km north-west of the capital city Port-au-Prince. The Artibonite Departement is the largest and most densely populated rural region in Haiti with a population of about 300,000.
The hospital is considered to be one of the best in Haiti. It has 115 beds for inpatients, but the number rocketed after the earthquake. At times, there were over 600 beds. It has departments for children (almost half the hospital), surgery, general medicine, high-risk obstetrics/gynaecology as well as a small eye department and a rehabilitation department for undernourished children. Thanks to the financial help provided by the Swiss Directorate for Development and Cooperation (DEZA), six health centres (dispensaries) in the surrounding mountains were built or converted during the first half of 2009. The hospitals and dispensaries form the actual public healthcare system for the impoverished rural population. 98 % of the permanent staff are Haitians. The other two percent are specialists in medicine, training, engineering and financial sectors who stem from Switzerland, Canada and the US.
With heart and soul right from the outset – the foundation of the HAS
Hospital Albert Schweitzer was built in 1956 by Dr. Larimer and Mrs. Gwen Mellon in Deschapelles, in the Artibonite Valley region of Haiti. They were inspired by the work and commitment of Dr. Schweitzer and his philosophy of Reverence for Life. In 1947, the couple read an article in ‘LIFE’ magazine about Albert Schweitzer and his mission hospital in Lambarene, West Africa. After corresponding with Dr. Schweitzer, Larimer Mellon decided to go to medical school and open a hospital in a deprived part of the world. At the same time, his wife Gwen became a nurse in order to be able to support him in his work. In 1956, he chose to go to the Artibonite Valley region as one of the world’s most densely populated and impoverished areas. The residents, mostly subsistence farmers living on poor land and in harsh conditions, suffered from high infant mortality, malnutrition, tuberculosis, measles, malaria and intestinal parasites. After establishing the hospital, the Mellons started reaching out beyond its walls and working with its neighbours. They forged ahead in improving life for the Haitian people by piping water into villages, building latrines, drilling wells for safe water, introducing animal husbandry and farming method. Dr. Mellon died in 1989. His wife continued to sustain the spirit of the hospital embodying Dr. Schweitzer’s philosophy of Reverence for Life and the love and pragmatism of Dr. Mellon, until her death in November 2000.(1)
In cooperation with the Hanger Ivan R. Sabel Foundation and Swiss institutions, the hospital and a prosthesis factory with rehabilitation (walking school) were set up in record time to become the first institution in Haiti to care for amputees with prostheses after the earthquake. The HAS has not limited itself to providing only the standard range of hospital care. It also initiates infrastructure projects for the supply of drinking water and reforestation in the mountains and it is working to promote literacy and provide microcredits for women. Helping others to help themselves is always the underlying principle for cooperation with the native population. Most of the hospitals in Port-au-Prince were badly damaged or even demolished by the earthquake. However, the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer escaped damage by the earthquake and has its own power generators and water supply, so it was able to immediately help the injured when they were brought in from the earthquake zone. In January 2010, a total of 1,318 additional earthquake victims were treated; free of charge of course.
The population of Artibonite valley, where the HAS is located, has increased considerably since the earthquake, because many people fled from the region of the capital city out into the countryside. The earthquake largely destroyed public healthcare in Port-au-Prince, and this has only been partially restored through the help of international organisations. Following the earthquake in January 2010, a never-ending stream of victims with the severest of injuries, were brought to the hospital. Most of the patients who were admitted to hospital required surgical intervention.
The first anniversary of the Earthquake
January 12, 2011, people of the HAS commemorated the earthquake and its victims. There were several presentations and music by a group composed of amputees and others and a double amputee who spoke movingly about the hope which has come from her new mobility due to her two prosthetics legs.
There was also a presentation of knee joints and the work at the clinic. People at Haiti are very thankful and pleased that medi for help will continue to support the Hanger Ivan R. Sabel Foundation in Haiti.
Source: (1) This text has been derived from www.schweitzerhospitalfund.org.uk/haiti.html
Visit the website of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer: http://www.hashaiti.org/