Pregnant women desperate for free emergency obstetric care in Haiti

Médecins Sans Frontières struggling to provide care

Médecins Sans Frontières' (MSF) medical teams are struggling to provide free quality emergency care to pregnant women and their babies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In the last month, hundreds of women have desperately sought emergency obstetric care at Jude-Anne hospital in Port-au-Prince. In October, the hospital staff assisted a record high of 56 women giving birth in one day and received 160 women waiting for hospitalization. The hospital has been so overwhelmed by demand that mothers have given birth in the hospital's waiting room, the staircases and in the washrooms: basically anywhere they could find space. For this 60-bed emergency hospital (including 5 delivery beds) with an average rate of 35 births a day (1000 births a month), this is an untenable situation.

The overwhelming number of patients at Jude-Anne hospital is the result of several factors. The most critical being the repeated hospital strikes in the capital. For example, the government's central hospital in Port-au-Prince, an important referral center for pregnant women who do not have complications in their pregnancies, has been on strike for the past 3 weeks, with no end in sight.

"If the situation continues I am afraid women and children will die as a result. Hospitals must accept patients and give free maternal care immediately or the situation will become catastrophic. I urge the government and its donors to reinforce the implementation of free obstetric services without delay," explains Head of mission Hans van DILLEN.

Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western hemisphere. Despite the Ministry of Health receiving funding in February 2008 to implement a free obstetric care program in the country, a system of cost recovery continues.  Babies and mothers are dying unnecessarily partially because authorities are too slow to apply the free program and some hospitals are too reluctant to implement it.

MSF is extremely worried by the impact of the strikes on the access to care for pregnant women, and urges the Ministry of Health to immediately implement the promised free obstetric care program to help save the lives of mothers and babies.

MSF in Haiti

In the capital Port-au-Prince, MSF provides emergency obstetric care in Jude Anne hospital; organises mobile clinics in the slums of Martissant, Pelé Simon, La Saline and Solino; offers emergency and stabilization care in Martissant hospital; and provides trauma care and physiotherapy in La Trinité and Pacot hospitals, including counseling for victims of sexual violence. North of the capital, in the Gonaives, MSF set up a water and sanitation program and mobile clinics, and manages an 80-bed hospital to provide emergency, maternity and pediatric care, in response to the destruction caused by tropical storms and hurricanes.