Lucia, an inspiring journey

Lucia, an inspiring journey

Lucia, 34, is Haitian. Born in the Jeremie region, she joined Médecins du Monde in 2010, which has been present in Haiti for 30 years. After struggling in recent years against the chronic emergencies that have hit her country, Lucia will soon fly to a new mission abroad. Here is the story of an inspiring journey.

HOW DID YOU GET TO MÉDECINS DUinfo-icon MONDE?

I was working at Saint-Antoine Public Hospital in the Grand'Anse Department, in southwestern Haiti, as a freshly graduated nurse, when the country was hit by the earthquake in January 2010. This disaster destabilized Haiti and devastated the Port-au-Prince region, causing an influx of internally displaced people throughout the country. Thousands of people found themselves in absolute distress. They had lost everything and were left to their own devices.

 

At the time, Médecins du Monde was already active in the region in nutrition, primary health care, and sexual and reproductive health programs. This presence enabled them to respond quickly to the emergency by providing logistical and medical support to local health centers in response to this influx of displaced persons. Subsequently, to meet the needs of the most isolated among them, the NGO decided to set up mobile teams capable of working freely in hardly accessible areas. The objective was to offer free consultations, medicines, treatments for child malnutrition, but also - given the total poverty in which these people were surviving - hygiene and food awareness.

When I heard they were looking for nurses, I applied right away.

 

On January 12, 2010, a destructive earthquake struck the island of Haiti, killing 300,000 people, leaving more than 300,000 injured and nearly 1.5 million homeless. © Benoît Guenot
Le 12 janvier 2010, un séisme destructeur frappait l'île d'Haïti, faisant 300 000 morts et disparus, plus de 300 000 blessés et près de 1,5 millions de sans abri. © Benoît Guenot

HOW DID YOU EXPERIENCE THE OUTBREAK OF THE CHOLERA EPIDEMIC IN 2010?

While Haiti was struggling with the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the earthquake, cholera bacteria appeared in the Artibonite department in November 2010, imported by a UN contingent. Given the health conditions and massive population movements throughout the country, the epidemic quickly became a national problem.

 

It was a new disease in Haiti, no one knew what it was or how to react. This lack of knowledge undoubtedly contributed to the very high mortality rate at the beginning. As health professionals, we feared this devastating disease. It is thanks to the experience of an expatriate colleague within our team, who had already been trained in the problem, that we were able to identify the bacterium and adapt quickly.

It was a new disease in Haiti, no one knew what it was or how to react.

But in the face of this new disaster in a country already down, the population's response was an additional challenge. For example, some people believed in a bad fate and turned to fetishists rather than to health centers.
In addition to health measures, extensive training and community awareness work were therefore required to contain the epidemic.

 

THERE ARE NO MORE CHOLERA CASES IN THE AREAS WHERE YOU ARE WORKING. HOW DID YOU AND YOUR TEAM ACHIEVE THIS?

We have been able to fight the epidemic globally, going beyond the simple medical care of patients. Obviously, at the beginning we had to be very reactive to save lives: first of all, we supported the health department of La Grand'Anse by opening 5 cholera management structures to welcome, treat and decently monitor patients. We have also set up an "emergency" team able to intervene anywhere in the department to treat and limit epidemics' outbreaks.

 

Cholera is a highly contagious bacterium. To fight its spread, we had to work on strategies to reduce the risk of infection, especially during the most favorable periods for epidemic peaks - rainy seasons, new natural disasters... Our teams worked closely with the various local authorities, whether they were school principals, traditional healers and midwives, and, of course, local health centers. The objective for them was to use their influence to relay the right actions and practices to adopt to the population to prevent the transmission of the bacteria, and to be able to identify and refer suspected cases.

Cholera is a highly contagious bacterium. To combat its spread, our teams worked closely with the various local authorities.

In 2016, I was in charge of the cholera program combining care, awareness, and training in three Haitian departments. At the national level, Médecins du Monde was fighting to eradicate cholera in six of the country's ten departments. Today, the epidemic is under control throughout the country and there have been no suspected cases in Grand'Anse for the past year. And we know that thanks to the transmission mission we have deployed to medical and nursing schools, local teams will be able to cope in the event of a new epidemic peak.

 

Pour limiter la transmission de l'épidémie du choléra, un "gardien" de Médecins du Monde décontamine une habitation au chlore. © Olivier Papegnies
Pour limiter la transmission de l'épidémie du choléra, un "gardien" de Médecins du Monde décontamine une habitation au chlore. © Olivier Papegnies

TODAY, WHAT ARE YOUR PROFESSIONAL PROSPECTS?

I had been thinking about expatriation for a few months, but I was waiting for the end of the cholera program and its handover to Haitian institutions to really think about it. After years of coordinating this program for Médecins du Monde, I learned that working in partnership with national institutions is a major challenge for changing health policies. I wanted to deepen my experience in this field by moving abroad. Knowing other countries and ministries will be an asset for me and it will probably be useful when I return to Haiti.

In a few days, I will fly to Bangui, in the Central African Republic, where I will become a medical coordinator, still for Médecins du Monde. The Central African Republic is going through a very difficult period with a conflict that has been shaking the country since 2013 and which has turned the population into its first victim. There, my role will be to be in permanent contact with our partner care facilities and institutions, to ensure that patients are cared for as best as possible. This new context does not frighten me, Haiti is not a calm country either, so I will be able to react in case of a crisis. We know they can happen, you just have to know how to handle them.

Whatever happens to my future, Médecins du Monde will remain dear to my heart. This association is the one which made me progress and discovered my skills. Thanks to it, to my teams and to the results we have achieved together, I have improved humanely.

 

Lucia, 34 ans, est haïtienne, elle a rejoint Médecins du Monde en 2010. © Olivier Papegnies
Lucia, 34 ans, est haïtienne, elle a rejoint Médecins du Monde en 2010. © Olivier Papegnies
Lou Maraval
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