Overcoming adversity: Haitians deal with disabilities
Faymee and Oesto don't know each other, but they have much in common. They are both 4-years-old, both Haitian and both extremely shy. And sadly, both suffered serious injuries in the 12 January earthquake, leading both to undergo limb amputations to save their lives.
"He is not the only one," Oesto's father, Alphonse, said of his son, whose right arm was so badly crushed that doctors had to remove it. "There are hundreds of children whose fate is worse. They have lost both arms or both legs. We now want to go back to Leogane and rebuild our house."
Of the estimated 800,000 people with disabilities in Haïti before the earthquake, 200,000 were children. The Government estimates that 300,000 people were injured in the disaster, many of whom will suffer long-term disabilities.
The number of children and adults who underwent amputations and suffered other forms of disability is unclear, but health providers are planning to provide care for hundreds, if not thousands, of people who will require various forms of rehabilitation in the weeks and months ahead.
One such person is Faymee, who when we met her was refusing a nurse's attempts to try use the crutches needed to walk with after having her left leg amputated below the knee.
With a faint smile, she only shook her head when asked why she did not want to use the crutches. Her mother, Madeline, said: "Children are children, you can't make them adapt so quickly to new things. It will take time for her to accept the situation and use crutches. It is difficult for the whole family."
When the quake hit, a stone from the wall surrounding Faymee's home pinned her leg. Her family managed to free her and she was brought to the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince a few days after the quake. Her leg was already swollen and blue. A doctor at the hospital decided to amputate the leg below the knee to save the girl's life.
Oesto's story was equally, if not more, tragic. He lost his mother and brother in the disaster. On finding Oesto unconscious and severely injured, his father took him on a 20 mile journey from their Leogane home to Port-au-Prince in search of the care that was to save his last remaining child's life. Weeks following the quake, Oesto was still undergoing post-operative care, which is a key step in the recovery for many of Haiti's newly disabled.
Health providers are focussing on the needs of Haitians with disabilities, both those who were in need of care before the earthquake and those newly disabled following. The Health Cluster, which is led by PAHO/WHO, has a dedicated sub-group dealing with disabilities which is chaired by Handicap International.
In the revised Haiti Flash Appeal, a project has been drawn up to "Ensure Availability of Post-Earthquake Rehabilitation" and implemented by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health, Cuban Medical Brigade and Handicap International. This project, valued at US$5.15 million, aims to:
- Support treatment of injuries and emergency services, including referrals of patients.
- Provide access to a free orthopaedic unit for follow-up care for patients.
- Ensure the proper functioning of at least one specialized institute on medical rehabilitation.
- Set up community-based rehabilitation services.
- Make available assistive devices and technologies, like wheelchairs, and prostheses.
- Deliver mid- and long-term training of rehabilitation specialists, orthopaedic surgeons and nurses.