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Public Hospitals In Haiti Struggle To Stay Open As Doctor Strike Drags On


Nurses, medical residents and doctors across Haiti have been on strike since March. They're protesting low wages and the lack of medical supplies. The strike has spread to more than a dozen state-run hospitals. Four have shut down altogether, and that's put pressure on the nonprofit and privately run medical groups that operate in the country. One of them is Haitian Hearts based in Illinois. Dr. John Carroll is the founder. He recently returned from a trip to Haiti. Welcome to the program.

JOHN CARROLL: Thank you very much, Audie. It's my pleasure to be here.

CORNISH: So you've been back and forth to Haiti the last couple of months. What are you seeing in terms of this health crisis? What does this look like?

CARROLL: Well, for me personally, when I'm working in a pediatric clinic in Cite Soleil, it's very difficult for me to send my sickest babies to a hospital that can admit the baby where the mother can actually pay for that admission because the public hospitals are now on strike. They're essentially closed. So I have to do a lot of outpatient treatment of children where I would prefer that they were admitted to a hospital to get better care.

CORNISH: So talk about the demands of the striking medical workers. What are they calling for, and are they any closer to getting it?

CARROLL: There are about 450 residents on strike throughout all of Haiti, and they're asking for an increase in salary. Their present salary is up approximately $120 U.S. per month. And the government has gone up to 220, but they're holding out for $450 U.S. per month.

They're also striking for better working conditions within the hospital. The hospitals are frequently very dirty. The operating rooms are not adequate. Anesthesia machines break. They're fighting for the rights of their patients.

CORNISH: So who is picking up care for these needy patients? I mean right now if something happens to you in Haiti, where do you go?

CARROLL: The average needy patient is in trouble. He can try - or she can try to go to an NGO-run hospital, a Doctors Without Borders hospital. But the situation is very difficult for the vast majority of poor people.

At one of the major public hospitals in Port-au-Prince, before the strike, they were delivering about 50 babies per day. Now these women who were to deliver naturally in that hospital are not going to deliver at that hospital because it's closed, and so the majority of them would be delivering at home with the help of a Haitian midwife.

CORNISH: We know that there is political instability in Haiti. That's what's contributing to this. There is an interim prime minister right now. But there's also criticism that there has been so much focus on targeting money - for instance, the NGO community targeting things towards specific diseases or towards specific facilities - that there isn't the same support just for general care. Do you think that's the case?

CARROLL: I do think that's the case. And primary care needs to be really supported in Haiti so Haitian physicians go into primary care and are paid for their services and take care of diseases that the majority of the population suffer from.

CORNISH: You've been doing this work for a long time. What are you hoping for going forward? Is this the worst you've ever seen it?

CARROLL: I would say it's the worst I've ever seen it as far as their fragmentation and the lack of care. I work in a pediatric clinic in Cite Soleil, and I do all I can to treat my babies as an outpatient. And I'll give them antibiotics and see them back in the morning if I don't have a place to refer them.

But the strike - the situation needs to be taken care of, and it can be taken care of I think with the beneficent government. And you know, I think of the $33 million the United States donated to the election last fall, the presidential election, and what that $33 million could have done for Haiti's health care system.

CORNISH: That was Dr. John Carroll of Haitian Hearts. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

CARROLL: Thank you, Audie. It's been my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.