By Jennifer Ocquidant
In 2011 Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) opened a new obstetric emergency hospital in Delmas, a busy neighbourhood in Haiti
’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The 143-bed facility treats pregnant women with severe complications, offering a maternity ward, obstetric surgery, family planning and psychosocial support. It replaced MSF’s previous emergency obstetric hospital that was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.
For years the Haitian health system has struggled to manage the demand for emergency obstetric care. Most private medical services are too expensive for the majority of people. The Delmas hospital is a haven for pregnant women with complications who require specialized, free emergency care. MSF offers medical services comparable to western countries like Canada. The high demand for its services makes the hospital a very busy place.
On a recent visit, I was particularly impressed by the kangaroo care ward. Kangaroo care was invented by a Colombian pediatrician as a way of dealing with a lack of incubators for premature babies at his hospital. He decided to test a new method whereby the fragile premature infant is held continuously and directly skin-to-skin with its mother. Since MSF works mainly in resource-poor settings, the decision to include this method in its medical projects was no surprise.
Simple method yields good results
Simple but revolutionary, this method seemed like a miracle solution to help get premature babies through their difficult first weeks. Permanent contact with the mother’s skin helps infants maintain an adequate body temperature, allowing them to feel a womb-like protection and to gradually gain weight. Their growth and development are regularly monitored. Besides being born prematurely, the babies must be healthy to participate in the program. New mothers must attend an information session on the method and follow the protocol.
I watched the mothers stretched out next to each other in a room buzzing with activity, going about their business with small bundles attached to their chests. I noticed one mother who had not one small bundle on her chest, but two. The pediatrician explained that she gave birth to twins prematurely due to pre-eclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure in pregnancy. Common among Haitian women, this can be fatal to both the fetus and the mother. The only remedy is to induce labour.
Christelle, 19, gave birth to twin babies at the MSF hospital 28 weeks into her pregnancy. Her daughter weighed 940 grams and her son only 720. The twins had to be treated in the neonatal intensive care unit for two weeks. Only after they had stabilized could they come to the kangaroo care ward.
“During the day, I lie with my babies on top of me and nurse them every two hours,” Christelle explained. “While it’s difficult, this method seems to be working because my little girl weighs 1,425 grams now. Unfortunately my son had complications and had to return to the pediatric ward. But he’s doing better. I went to MSF because the other hospitals weren’t equipped to handle complicated deliveries like mine. This hospital is very good. The employees stay positive and help the patients a lot.”
With two new babies, life won’t be easy for Christelle. Her family wants her to go back to school, so the babies may have to go to and live with their grandmother. But Christelle says she is confident about the future.
- Learn more about MSF's work in Haiti