Labor Repose

Labor Repose
LaborPayne during her 6th homebirth (9th baby) at age 44

Friday, March 12, 2010

Haiti Countdown

I met with Captain Belardo yesterday of the US Public Health Corps. He was just 10 days returned from a 2 month assignment in Haiti aboard an aircraft carrier converted for hospital use. Though he and his team were charged with water sanitation, and human and livestock immunization, the most difficult cases were helicoptered back to the ship for surgical procedures. He showed me hundreds of photos he had taken of crushing injuries, broken bones, amputations, burns, and severe bed sores (stage IV!). It seems the injured would lie for days unable to move themselves and without anyone to move them they would develop bed sores. He stated how sometimes the press overhypes things and blows them out of proportion, and how he was surprised to arrive in Haiti to find things much worse than anything he saw captured on CNN. The only redemptive element he found was 'the spirit of the people.'

I asked him specifically about maternal-infant health and was surprised to hear him mention the importance of breastfeeding. When I pointed out that most disaster relief folks want to rush in the formula after an event, he chuckled and confessed to being an old MCHBer (Maternal Child Health Bureau of Health and Human Services). Then he look very serious and said formula would be disasterous to send formula to Haiti- they barely had clean water before, they definately don't now. I was so relieved to hear someone in a government uniform was getting it. Don't send formula, send lactation support workers!

However, I digress. When I asked Captain Belardo what I should take with me, he informed me that I would be arriving during MANSOON SEASON! Yikes! Not just little periodic rain storms, he tells me, but hard driving rain and wind for days on end- but still in the 90s everyday. Sounds like hell with a beach. I asked about immunizations and was told: malaria, hepatitis A, and tetnus. When I told him I was thinking about skipping the hep A, he leaned across his desk, peered over his glasses and said, "Don't." Okay, then, Hep A it is. When I asked for what I should ask for he helped me to ammend my list to the following:
  • baby slings
  • folic acid and prenatal vitamins
  • antifungal cream
  • hair accessories
  • condoms

Ok, the last item might throw you off a bit, but Cap. B assured me that sexually transmitted disease was EVERYWHERE, including AIDS (that shouldn't come as a surprise in a third world country without a public health infrastructure). I did remember from my previous research that STIs and uplanned pregnancy rose precipitously after a disaster (so do sexual assaults, but that's another story). He said he made fast friends when it became known he had condoms to give out. I was just lecturing my students earlier this week about the long term effects on female fertility from recurring bouts of genital infections- it ain't good news. So to promote maternal health, I'm going to pass out condoms to every nonpreg woman I see.

All in all, a very helpful visit. Working with pregnant women seems a little anticlimactic in the face of such devestation, but I know every little bit helps.

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