CHOLERA CARE: Gardner, right, with one of his cholera patients at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer
“You are not able to change the whole world, but you are able to give hope to one human being,” are words attributed to Albert Schweitzer, MD, PhD, a 1952 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the inspiration for the creation of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti.
The meaningful words also were an inspiration for Steven Gardner, MD, MPH, a physician at the MGH Beacon Hill Health Associates and one of the clinicians serving on a 2010 MGH Thomas S. Durant Fellowship in Refugee Medicine. A seasoned internal medicine physician, Gardner traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Oct. 6 to provide medical care and public health guidance to the Haitian citizens still reeling from the devastation of last year’s earthquake.
In Port-au-Prince, Gardner served with the American Refugee Committee, an international organization that provides assistance to refugees and displaced individuals. During his first month abroad, Gardner delivered care at two tent cities – Terrain Acra, where there were 25,000 residents, and Old Military Camp, where 51,000 Haitians have been living in squalor since last year. During his deployment, the country encountered yet another disaster, a cholera epidemic.
“The cholera outbreak began in the Artibonite Valley of central Haiti,” says Gardner, who returned to the United States in
late December. “When the epidemic worsened, I was given the opportunity to work with Project HOPE directing a treatment program in Deschapelles at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer. We cared for about 90 cholera patients at a time. Our team included physicians from Switzerland and Poland.”
Gardner also worked with his Haitian counterparts at the hospital, where he provided medical care and guidance, helping to determine whether the patients were suffering from cholera or another illness, such as typhoid or malaria.
“The quote from Albert Schweitzer really sums it up,” he says. “At present, there are many powerful forces working against improved public health in Haiti, such as the destruction of the medical infrastructure and devastating poverty. None of us can significantly impact those at the moment, but we can try to offer hope to one person at a time.”