INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE: Barkin maintains intravenous fluids for a cholera patient in Haiti. Photo by Brendan Hoffman.
Following a 100-year absence on the island of Hispaniola, cholera – a potentially deadly bacterial disease that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration – not only has reemerged, but it also has reached epidemic proportions in Haiti. Nearly 100,000 individuals in the country are battling the illness, and to date, more than 2,000 have died.
In October, the MGH joined with Project HOPE in Haiti to help care for those affected by cholera. Laurence Ronan, MD, co-director of the MGH Center for Global Health’s Office of Disaster Response, and nurses Jane Caporiccio, RN; Joyce Barkin, NP; Emily Ferguson, RN; Alysia Monaco, RN; and Nora Sheehan, RN, were deployed to serve at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in central Haiti, while Jason Harris, MD, of MassGeneral Hospital for Children’s Infectious Disease Unit, and Richelle Charles, MD, of the MGH Infectious Disease Unit, served with Project HOPE in Petite Rivière.
The MGH team supported the local hospital staff, caring for hundreds of men, women and children. Ronan, Barkin, Sheehan and Harris recently shared their experiences in Haiti, presenting "Insights into the Cholera Epidemic in Haiti" Nov. 30 in the Haber Auditorium.
The group was joined via videoconferencing by Louise Ivers, MD, MPH, of Partners in Health, who currently is serving in Haiti. Following an introduction by Ronan and a general overview of cholera by Harris – who explained the epidemiology and clinical aspects of the epidemic – Barkin and Sheehan described their experiences during their two-week deployment at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer.
"While it was wonderful to work with our Haitian colleagues and offer care to the Haitian patients, there were several challenges," said Sheehan. "Among these, the language barrier was huge, so working with the Haitian nurses and families was challenging. In addition to offering direct care, we spent time educating the patients and their family members. When the patients arrived at the hospital, often traveling by foot, they came in with their whole family. So it was important for us to educate family members about hand hygiene to help them avoid acquiring the illness while caring for their loved one."
Barkin also described her experience as, at times, challenging and frustrating. "Although we did feel that we were helpful, it is hard not to think that we were limited by a lack of supplies and most acutely by the language barrier," she said. "We spent much of our day starting and maintaining intravenous fluids, encouraging oral rehydration and doing whatever was needed to be done, such as obtaining basic supplies. The trip to Haiti was an amazing experience; I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity through the MGH Center for Global Health and Project HOPE."