At NPFS Hospital St. Damien we are forever indebted to our dedicated, accomplished doctors especially those who have part of our family for many years. One such physician is Dr. Jacqueline Gautier our public heath, HIV specialist.
Much of her dedication and work ethic is evident from her previous career as a star athlete. For eight years, Dr. Gautier alongside her three sisters, one of whom is Dr. Marie Antoinette Gautier and works in the St. Luc clinics, played for an elite soccer club and was selected to play on the Haitian national team at times.
Following school, Dr. Gautier began her medical career at Albert Schweitzer Hospital and made her first connection with NPFS. At that time, the hospice center functioned as a gateway to the St. Helene. New children coming to the orphanage would be treated for any medical conditions and Dr. Gautier was a member of the medical team who treated the children. She became a full-time staff member at NPFS in 1993 as the first medical director when the hospice was transformed into a hospital expanding its treatment to outside members of the community. She left in 2001 to go back to Albert Schweitzer Hospital but came back to us in 2003 as a consultant and then as a full time staff member in 2005.
As for any population, public health is critically important in Haiti. Unlike in developed countries where parents actively vaccinate their children, however, the medical team at St. Damien must campaign in the neighborhood and actively bring the vaccinations to the children in order to ensure that the community is properly protected from the spread of preventable diseases. In 2005 only 58% of children under the age of one received diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccinations respectively compared to 93% in the United States. In addition, while the estimated 2.3% prevalence of HIV in adults ages 15 and older in Haiti is a relatively small percent compared to other undeveloped countries (16% in South Africa, 1.3% in Honduras and 0.5% in the United States), only 20% of pregnant HIV-positive women are receiving anti-retroviral treatment compared to 50% in South Africa1.
For this reason, Dr. Gautier and her staff are working tirelessly to expand treatment to all children and pregnant HIV-positive mothers at Saint Damien hospital. In order to help families afflicted with HIV, the public health center at St. Damien employs a multidisciplinary team with a psychologist, a social worker, two counselors, two pediatricians, two pharmacists, and five health agents. This effort is not without its challenges though. One particular problem they face is that many citizens of Haiti do not understand how the virus is contracted; many still blame curses for their disease. As a result, HIV-positive mothers who have HIV-negative children may not believe that they in fact have the disease. For a second pregnancy they are less likely to comply with the anti-retroviral regimen and thus put their newborn at risk. Education and treatment are vitally important in combating this disease. Dr Gautier directly reports that she is blessed to work with such a dedicated team in order to achieve this goal.
In addition to their local work and with the financial support of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Dr. Gautier and her staff are training other medical personnel to treat HIV patients in other areas of the country. Also, in 2006, she was a member of the team that prepared the first Haitian national guidelines of management of children exposed and infected with HIV.
Aside from her Hollywood-smile, we at NPFS Haiti are blessed for so many reasons that Dr. Gautier is part of our family and that she will continue her good work with us for years to come. Thank you, Jacqueline Gautier for all your dedication to the children of this country!