The giggles are overpowering. It’s Friday afternoon at St Damien hospital, a time where the week is usually winding down and weekend arrangements are quietly being made. Bellowing laughs are not usually heard. At least not as loud as this.
Approaching the church, gigantic boxes of cakes come into view. Children sit on mother’s laps as a raucous group runs back and forth across a premade stage. A toddler erupts with glee: “Gade mama!” She squeals. “Watch!”
It’s Mothers day in Haiti-or at least it will be. Falling on the last Sunday of the month of May, the holiday, much like its different incarnations celebrated throughout the world, celebrates the sacrifice, love, and compassion of mothers in Haiti. St Damien’s Santé Communitaire (Public Health Center) has put on a special performance for those mothers carrying an extra burden this weekend, caring for a child with HIV.
“These mothers, they carry their cross in such an extraordinary manner,” explains Dr Jacqueline Gautier, Director of the Center. “We wanted to do something to celebrate them, what they’ve done, what they do.”
The display is not surprising from a center that has always gone the extra mile to ensure quality, compassionate, care for their patients and families. The catchment area of the center doubled last year, and Dr. Gautier’s team met the challenge by offering public health prevention measures to the approximately 20,000 people now requiring help. Public health agents immediately started implementing community meetings in two tent camps to get real time information on the biggest issues affecting the patients.
And then of course there was the HIV program, which had 800 children enrolled for care. Out of 800, only 226 met requirements to be put on Antiretroviral Treatment (ART). Dr. Gautier explains, “Many more are eligible but their social conditions limit their care. For a child to start ART, we need to have parameters permitting this child to receive their drugs:
The mother/care giver needs to have a fixed address, a backup caretaker for when the mother isn’t available, and compliance with her own treatment if the mother is infected. We also require acceptance of the disease-a psychologist works with them as soon as they know the child diagnosis. If they strongly believe it is a curse, even if the child needs the drugs we can not start, because any time they may stop and bring the child to the countryside for hungan (voodoo medicine).”
She takes a pause and looks out onto the crowd. “So it’s a very hard, and complicated disease. So whenever we can celebrate the strength it takes to fight it, and the triumph these mothers are able to have over nearly impossible circumstances, we do.”