Public health concern, Social Issue

Helping Haitian Futures: A focus on health

This op-ed article was originally published in the Carribean Journal 

Across the globe, the number of migrants has risen in the recent years. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the growing poverty in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and wars in others like Syria. We can recall the images of Aylan, the 3-year-old Syrian boy drowned in the Mediterranean sea while his family attempted to flee their war affected country. Closer to us, the story of Sonia has been related, fleeing deportation threats and intimidation in the Dominican republic where she lived.

She was not alone on her journey. As of July 2015, a significant number of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent fled the Dominican Republic for similar reasons. A large part gathered in cardboard-made tents, at Anse-a-Pitres, southeastern commune of Haiti. With a minimal assistance, these migrants are left vulnerable to important health risks in a hostile environment, considering the promiscuity, lack of resources and medical assistance. Let’s go around some of these health risks.

Young boy at the migrant camp of Anse-a-Pitres Source: Etant Dupain. Twitter @gaetantguevara

Young boy at the migrant camp of Anse-a-Pitres
Source: Etant Dupain. Twitter @gaetantguevara

In Haiti, the rainy season extends from April to November. As the millimeters of rain accumulate, the risks of cholera outbreaks also rise since this infectious disease is evolving towards an endemic one in the country. At the Anse-a-Pitre’s camp, an adequate sanitation system to prevent the occurrence and spread of a cholera outbreak is definitely nonexistent, thus an exacerbated risk. However, cholera is not the only infectious disease to take into account as a health threat in this particular situation.

Tuberculosis- also endemic in Haiti- is spread by the means of promiscuity and enhanced by a poor nutritional state. In reference to the testimonies of Etant Dupain and Roxane Ledan, this describes precisely the catastrophic living conditions of the migrants. The context of promiscuity and lack of preventive medical care also stands as a large ground for the occurrence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

Simultaneously, potential women’s health issues can develop. In general, the pregnant women are exposed to countless pregnancy-related illnesses like anemia because an appropriate medical examination during the pregnancy is minimal, nay, totally unavailable. Plus, the context is favorable to high-risk delivery since an adequate medical equipment is absent.

On another side, unwanted pregnancies may result from the absence of birth control initiatives in the camp, such as an adequate education coupled with effective contraceptive tools. In the worst cases, women may arrest their pregnancy, in precarious conditions as it is often the case in Haiti where voluntary interruption of pregnancy is not supported by the law. These women’s health issues are not isolated from the risks of infectious diseases discussed above. They might come also in interactions with other health risks or propel their occurrence.

Among them, depression and substance abuse are rarely emphasized. No matter the cause of migration, whether forced or voluntary as for Aylan’s family and Sonia, the process remains traumatizing. The migrant or deported status itself carries a pejorative connotation, impairing the dignity of the person. For many, the current situation may appear like a defeat or a torturing humiliation, especially if the process involved the separation of family members or loss of material goods. This emotional pain is opportune for the development of neurosis and abuse of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sleep inducing medication. As consequences, violence against girls and women may occur and infections may be sexually transmitted, perpetuating the vicious circle. Unfortunately, the living conditions at the migrant camp can only worsen the risks of mental ailments.

Women and children at the migrant camp of Anse-a-Pitres Source: Etant Dupain. Twitter @gaetantguevara

Women and children at the migrant camp of Anse-a-Pitres
Source: Etant Dupain. Twitter @gaetantguevara

Despite this alarming situation, these health risks ultimately refer to the future, even if it means the next minute, hour or day. Therefore, they give us the possibility to act upon them. As organized social groups, as the government, let us come together to reinvent the future of a growing number of Haitians, desperate and abandoned. A safe environment  where food, water, adequate shelter and medical assistance are available is a must to begin with. Based on these assets, an oriented and appropriate education should pave their way into a complete integration of the social life. In the face of this mighty challenge, we are left with little choice but unity and compassion.day. t upon them. As organized social groups, as the government, let us come together to reinvent the future of a growing number of Haitians, desperate and abandoned. A safe environment  where food, water, adequate shelter and medical assistance are available is a must to begin with. Based on these assets, an oriented and appropriate education should pave their way into a complete integration of the social life. In the face of this mighty challenge, we are left with little choice but unity and compassion.

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