Three Philadelphia University midwifery faculty members traveled to Haiti recently to provide care for pregnant women and others in the small, impoverished country, which is still reeling from a massive earthquake in January.
“It was with sadness that we witnessed the human suffering,” said Cindy Farley, Ph.D., CNM, FACNM, who with the other midwives treated from 30 to 50 women a day. “What we were doing wasn’t enough, but just going down there communicates something to the people you’re serving.”
Midwives Farley, Tanya Tringali and Liane Miller each took leave from their classes to volunteer with Midwives for Haiti from March 27 to April 3. Farley, who is based in Ohio, is associate program director and coordinator of graduate studies at PhilaU’s Midwifery Institute, a distance education program. Tringali is based in New York and Miller in Texas.
Midwives for Haiti was established even before the earthquake to help combat the high infant mortality rate in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. One of the group’s main goals is to expand the health infrastructure of the country by educating and training health providers in Haiti.
But when the devastating 7.0 magnitude quake hit on Jan. 12, killing an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people according to the United Nations, volunteers with Midwives for Haiti stepped in to meet the emergency health care needs of the country, despite the fact that the group was devastated by the loss of a school building and several teachers and students who were killed in the earthquake.
Setting up a temporary clinic from scratch, the midwives saw hundreds of pregnant women and others with gynecological complaints during the week, Farley said. They worked in the demolished capital city of Port-au-Prince and at a rural location on the coast, in conjunction with a larger medical group that treated more than 200 patients a day.
The midwives brought with them as many supplies and instruments as they could. They worked in primitive conditions, and both the humidity levels and mosquitoes were oppressive. “It was good experience in how to work with few resources,” Farley said. “We’re used to having lab tests and high-tech equipment for everything. You have to learn to appreciate listening, asking, touching – those kinds of assessment are really important.”
The PhilaU colleagues were the first midwives to volunteer in Haiti after the quake. Now with money and volunteers flowing into the country, Farley said Midwives for Haiti is working towards its longer-term goal of building a birth center in Cite Soleil, a slum just outside the capital, and to educate and train women’s health care providers in Haiti. The PhilaU group raised $15,000 to help accomplish this.
Tringali said the people of Haiti “need us there to provide care now, but what they really need, in the long run, is help getting them to a place where they can take care of their own.” She added, “I feel very positive about what this project will bring to this community in years to come, the most important of which will be a dramatic reduction in the maternal and infant mortality rates in this region.”
The trip also provided some ideas for future collaboration between PhilaU’s Midwifery Institute and the people of Haiti. “We have a course in reproductive health in developing nations, and we have thought in the past about putting an experiential component to it,” Farley said.