Last month, two delegations from the United Stated Congress visited International Medical Corps’ clinic in Petionville Club Camp, Port-au-Prince’s former golf course and now infamous tent city.
The first delegation included Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-California). It was followed shortly after by a second delegation made up of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pennsylvania), Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Florida), Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Illinois).
Since its start as a mobile clinic in the days following the 7.0-earthquake, International Medical Corps’ clinic in Petionville Camp has seen a transformation in the cases it treats in the past year. They have evolved from trauma and acute injuries to recurring illnesses that are the unfortunate results of poor nutrition, cramped living quarters, and essentially no sanitation services.
In addition to primary health services, mental health programs are unique to International Medical Corps’ clinic and are in great demand. Many who suffered from stress and disaster-related depression after the earthquake have relied heavily on International Medical Corps’ services, finding solace and guidance in a very dark period of their lives.
Because of these ongoing needs, International Medical Corps remains dedicated to providing quality health care to all who visit the clinic, even in spite of the end of major funding from the U.S. government.When they arrived, the clinic benches were almost completely full with mothers and infants. The early morning clinic began with everyday diarrheal cases, sprained ankles, or skinned knees. Mothers filed in toting their small, wide-eyed babies for check-ups and nutrition screenings, while others sought care for respiratory infections and anemia – health issues that are often manifestations of camp life.
The Congress members looked taken aback by the energy of one International Medical Corps community health worker who was leading mothers in a song which promotes the benefits of breastfeeding. The visitors asked about the song lyrics and were told about the struggle of International Medical Corps’ health care professionals to keep young babies healthy and the importance of breastfeeding in early infancy.
The delegation members were visibly saddened by the deleterious conditions of the camp, many commenting on how surreal the conditions in the camp seemed to them.Even after visiting similar humanitarian crises in Darfur, Gaza, and Kosovo, Rep. Platts emphasized how unparalleled the desperation in the camp seemed to him.
“Later tonight I will be back in central Pennsylvania [and] this will seem so unreal,” said Rep. Platts, standing outside the clinic. “I thank you all for being here and doing what you can in such a difficult situation like this. It’s really impressive.”
Every aspect of the clinic that morning was a picture perfect example of International Medical Corps’ commitment to the people of Petionville Club Camp. We are not sure exactly what perceptions our visitors took home with them. Undoubtedly, the shock of seeing such alarming need was foremost in their minds, while the tiny faces and tired gazes of countless mothers and children will be hard to forget. We hope that they also retain the memory of the voices of those tired mothers raised in song affirming their role as caretakers of the next generation – a generation that International Medical Corps hopes to see grow up strong and self-reliant.