- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

THOMONDE, Haiti — Seven years ago, most children in this town had the orange hair and swollen bellies of the chronically underfed, and only 20 percent were immunized against childhood diseases.

Now, they get hot lunches at school and have access to a well-equipped clinic, thanks to a partnership of the Haitian Health Ministry, U.S. humanitarian groups and the University of Miami.

“This is a model of what a U.S. medical school can do,” said Dr. Arthur Fournier, co-founder of Project Medishare and a professor at the University of Miami.

Its tin-roofed houses sprawling across a plateau, the town of 38,000 people is a three-hour drive from the capital, Port-au-Prince, plus a three-hour walk up a rutted road that vehicles cannot traverse.

Most residents don’t have jobs, and the nearest hospital is hours away.

“Old and young, people wasted away and died. It was too late to save them when they got to the nearest hospital,” said a former mayor, Jean Delva Souverne, who appealed to the University of Miami for help.

Thomonde’s slow recovery started when Mr. Souverne asked the university for a generator. When the school agreed in 1996, it sent a team to the town and discovered the extent of its problems.

“We all would have died if it had not been for Medishare,” said Archillean Saint-Louis, a 60-year-old farmer whose wife and six children all had tuberculosis about a year ago.

Project Medishare turned a dilapidated dispensary that was seeing fewer than 10 patients a day into a bustling clinic where two Haitian doctors, two nurses and a laboratory technician treat more than 100 patients a day.

The project also developed a partnership with Harvard professor Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health, an HIV/AIDS treatment center in nearby Cange, to train 48 health workers who go door-to-door in the area searching for illness and making sure that patients take prescribed medicines.

Such visits also have led to more than 96 percent of children younger than 5 being immunized.

At least 200 people have been saved in the past two years, estimates Dr. Fournier, whose group plans to build a 15-bed hospital.

Hunger is being tackled with a hot-lunch program provided by World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid group.

Still, the medical situation in the Central Plateau district where Thomonde and several other towns are situated remains serious.

Thirty-three percent of Thomonde’s people are malnourished, compared with 11 percent in the plateau’s other towns. Thomonde’s mortality rate for children younger than 5 is 187 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 89 in the other towns — and with 8 in the United States and 4 in Sweden.

“We are not medical missionaries. We are committed to sustained medical care assumed by Haitians themselves,” said Medishare’s other co-founder, Dr. Barth Green, another University of Miami medical professor.

Every year, about 50 first- and second-year University of Miami medical students come to Haiti and work with Project Medishare, which last February received a three-year grant of $750,000 from the Miami-based Green Family Foundation.

Dr. Fournier said the relationships he and the students have formed in Thomonde are one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

“Haiti is doing more for us than we are doing for Haiti,” he said.

He arrived in Haiti on his 98th visit in November, with more than a dozen doctors, health care experts and development specialists on a trip financed by the Green Family Foundation.

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, who was health and human services secretary under President Clinton, also came to see what more can be done.

“We can’t solve Haiti’s medical problems, but we can develop workable models and train Haitians to implement them,” she said.

The planned hospital would cost $400,000 to build, and its yearly operating costs will run about $150,000. If it gets needed funding, it will have an outpatient clinic, facilities for minor surgery, a laboratory, dental office, pharmacy and staff housing.

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