In countries like the United States and Europe, social distancing measures have been put in place. Elsewhere, social distancing is a privilege only few can afford, what do you think about that in the case of Haiti?
- Social distancing will be difficult to implement in Haiti’s slums (bidonville).
- The Government can quarantine these areas to contain the spread of the disease. These are the populations that are most at risk. We have to find a way to quarantine these neighborhoods while doing what we can to provide essential services.
- Navigating how to control disease transmission within slums and crowded areas will be the most challenging task for the government.
The government issued a work from home policy as well as a curfew from 8pm-5pm, how is this being applied?
- A lot of people do not have access to the internet or computers at home, so remote work is not feasible for everyone. This is why some companies like BRANA remain open. Their employees do not have the means to telework. The infrastructure is not there.
Partners in Haiti has been serving Haiti’s Central Plateau since the 1980s, providing high quality medical care and clinical education in Haiti. What are some things that we need to know about what is going on right now?
- As a major partner of the Ministry of Health (MSPP), we had plans of providing personal protective equipment, not specifically for the coronavirus, but to the Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais in Haiti.
- At this moment, my heroic colleagues are treating positive coronavirus cases in Haiti.
- The cases that are currently in treatment are all known, and the people they have been in contact with have all been quarantined.
- We have isolation spaces available.
- Across the 10 countries where Partners in Health works, we are pushing strategies for epidemiologic control that we know work well. What we think is working well for Haiti is that we have caught the cases early and we are doing aggressive contact tracing. We were too slow to do this in Spain, Italy and in many cities in the U.S.
- But while we do have isolation capacity in Haiti and people know how to wash their hands, managing this disease will be difficult. This will be difficult because the disease is new, and people who experience severe symptoms will need ICU level intensive care. We have 5 ICU beds ready in case the situation calls for it and we are training our staff in preparation for severe cases.
Is Haiti better prepared because we endured the Cholera epidemic?
- While the isolation capacity exists as we saw with cholera, we don’t have the number of healthcare professionals needed to manage a crisis. If we were to see severe cases, we wouldn’t have enough intensivists to receive these patients.
How is Partners in Health getting access to much needed medical supplies?
- We are calling companies to access rapid tests, secure ventilators and personally protective equipment (PPE). There are so few health professionals in Haiti and we have to protect them.
- We are working with local women cooperatives to produce masks and other personally protected equipment locally.
- We are also calling on the World Food Programme and the U.S. Military to get material in. We bought equipment and supplies, but we cannot get them in because of air route restrictions to Haiti.
Right now we only have 8 cases reported in Haiti. There is a fear that people are not reporting themselves because of the stigma. Is this the case?
- Fear is strong throughout the world. I felt this viscerally when I was in Liberia after the Ebola outbreak. People were being shunned, being turned away from their homes. We cannot allow this. Fear is another virus that we cannot allow.
- We have healthcare workers who are being stigmatized in Haiti. We need to reduce this stigma so that they can continue doing frontline work.
- We need awareness raising to reduce stigma. If you have symptoms, please agree to be tested.
- The government put in place regulations that will protect students. Once the first few cases of COVID-19 were reported, they requested that all schools close.
- Summit Education hosted a cascade of trainings, where we trained 50 principals on COVID-19 prevention practices. These 50 principals would then train teachers, teachers train students, and students would share what they have learned with their parents.
- They are working closely with Partners in Health in the Central Plateau to spread accurate and up-to-date information with the communities they serve.
How do you continue education under these circumstances?
- Our students do not have tablets, they do not have computers, they do not have internet, and they do not have textbooks. It will be difficult to encourage remote learning.
Outside of remittances, how do you think the diaspora can support Summit Education?
- So far, we have talked about distributing textbooks to support students in their continuous learning. I would advise the diaspora to listen to organizations and their needs. Oftentimes, the needs are financial. But any other requests should come directly from organizations.
How do you think this will impact women and girls in particular?
- Half of the households in Haiti are female headed households.
- COVID-19 will have an impact on this most marginalized population. In the most vulnerable category, we are talking about single mothers, adolescent girls and women working in the informal market. Most of these women live in the outskirts of crowded cities like Port-au-Prince.
- You are going to see increased violence on women and girls as people are encouraged to stay home, you will see an uptick of gendered violence. Travel restrictions and confinement will make it difficult for women to feed and care for their families. Some women will continue to do commerce to provide for their families.
- These disasters and crises keep shrinking girl’s efforts and their aspirations. These interruptions have the tendency to reduce their likelihood of completing their education.
Are there resources to help women experiencing domestic violence?
- There are women’s organizations providing limited services. There are organizations that are working to promote gender equity, but they need additional support and resources. This may be an opportunity for the diaspora to get involved.
Can you tell us what it is like living in China?
- Living here was a big challenge for me, I didn’t know any Haitians when I first arrived. I made friends pretty easily and although learning Chinese was difficult, I managed well.
- One thing that really shocked me in China is that even street merchants have QR codes. China is a cash free economy. For Haiti to replicate something like this, we would need the infrastructure: internet connectivity, smartphone penetration, and widespread digital literacy.
How did China respond to the crisis?
- The government put everything on lock from the very start.
- We have been on lock down since January 20th. People here are starting to calm down. Restaurants are opening. But majors places like schools are not opening yet. Everything is set to reopen in waves starting April 8th.
How is the government communicating with you?
- WeeChat allows the central government to communicate with the population. The government also tracks us via our mobile devices.
Is there fear that there might be a second wave of outbreaks?
- I’ve had a lot of people tell me there is definitely going to be a second wave. The population is ready for this, and the proper measures are put into place. They have closed airports and everything is still regulated.
Any lessons that you think we or the rest of the world can learn from China to contain or manage COVID-19?
- When they tell you to stay home, stay home.