Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, was ill-prepared for the global pandemic. According to the United Nations, some 35% of Haitians lack basic drinking water services and two-thirds have limited or no sanitation services, making it extremely difficult for people to regularly wash their hands as recommended to deter the spread of the coronavirus.
As part of a special Close the Gaps initiative to help prevent, limit, and stop the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, in 2020 the Canadian Medical Foundation (CMF) provided support to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) to improve hygiene initiatives in Haiti’s Lower Artibonite Valley.
Designated a COVID-19 treatment site by the Haitian Ministry of Health, the hospitals’ Emergency Response Plan included initiatives within the hospital as well as outside of the hospital to stem the spread of the virus within the local catchment area.
CMF supported the installation of 300 new community handwashing stations that are servicing about 20,000 beneficiaries in 5 communities and surrounding neighbourhoods. These handwashing stations were installed in public spaces with large gathering concentrations such as marketplaces, schools, churches, the hospital and the HAS campus. At each handwashing station, a volunteer is charged to ensure that water and chlorine are constantly available in addition to the maintenance of the station itself.
In these same communities, HAS also increased the availability of household “tippy taps”, simply constructed handwashing devices that enable contact-free handwashing to further assist in fighting the spread ofCOVID-19. The tippy tap stations will service about 1000 people. With each of these projects, community buy-in was essential. Residents were consulted on the site selection and installation projects and were engaged during the entire planning and implementation phases, key for program sustainability. In addition to the importance of community consultation, community education is a crucial component of COVID19 prevention. Due to this successful WASH education program, the anxiety levels, as well as the stigma surrounding the coronavirus have significantly decreased. People better understand the virus and the methods to prevent contracting and spreading it.
In the midst of providing COVID-19 treatment, HAS continues to meet and respond to the rising patient demands by remaining open 24/7 for essential health services including high-risk obstetrics, prenatal and neonatal care and pediatric services, in addition to receiving acutely ill patients and performing emergency and critical surgeries at the hospital. Since May, the number of patients coming to HAS for care have more than doubled.
HAS was fortunate that before the pandemic hit recent upgrades to their water system included the timely addition of a Mixed Oxidants (MIOX) water purifying system that are critically needed for COVID-19 related cleaning.
With critical shortages of bleach and all other surface sanitizers persisting on the local market, leaving hospitals and health centers all over Haiti are in dire need, the Mixed Oxidants (MIOX) water purifying system is lifesaving. The MIOX system produces surface disinfectant up to 200 gallons per day and has an effectiveness rate of 2.5 times more than bleach. HAS’ supply chain includes health facilities in the area as well as the local police precinct, churches and school. Extremely cost-effective, this high quality surface disinfectant is essential in the fight against and containment of COVID-19. To date, HAS has distributed 3,894 gallons of sanitizer throughout its health system and to local partners in need.
HAS continues to make significant strides in providing sanitary and hygiene solutions to prevent and mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 in the Artibonite region and we are proud of our part of their success and grateful to the CMF donors who helped support our efforts at closing the gaps.