Traditional birth attendants learn through song during a January training session.
Courtesy of Global Health Action
By Julia Kayser*
September 21, 2012—Last January, traditional birth attendants who serve in Petit-Goâve, Haiti, came together to receive training from Global Health Action, a partner of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Through song, role play, and poster presentations, they learned how to keep mothers and babies safe. These birth attendants face huge challenges in their daily work: Haiti has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the western hemisphere.
In the critical field of health, UMCOR, besides providing grants to partners like Global Health Action, also provides in-service training and resources to community health workers and supports Methodist hospitals. This month, UMCOR Health executives traveled to Haiti to meet with partners and take stock of the health programs that already exist. Two UMCOR staff—Patricia Magyar, health executive for the United States and Latin America, and Linda Unger, senior writer—respond to questions below:
What health conditions did you observe on your recent trip to Haiti?
Magyar: Health infrastructure is a big challenge in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside. It can be difficult to get fresh water, let alone medical equipment. Local clinics in Haiti need access to clean water, sanitation, medicines, equipment, training for medical professionals, and updated record keeping.
As Haiti faces these health challenges, how is UMCOR’s strategy shifting?
Unger: During the first two years after the January 2010 earthquake, UMCOR’s response was in emergency mode—meaning, we had to respond without hesitation to a variety of immediate needs. As the situation in Haiti shifts from emergency to long-term development, UMCOR’s strategy also is shifting. We now seek to develop more targeted and sustainable approaches to matters of health.
How is the Haiti health strategy similar to UMCOR’s health initiatives in other parts of the world?
Magyar: This model of care is community based. By training community health-care workers and birth attendants, UMCOR helps to deliver primary health care to vulnerable women and children. Community health-care workers also provide health education and information to improve nutrition. These basic goals reflect UMCOR’s strategy for health in Haiti and around the world.
What can people do to support UMCOR’s efforts to improve health in Haiti?
Unger: There are numerous ways generous United Methodists and other people of goodwill can continue to be engaged over the long haul in Haiti.
- Financial contributions to Haiti Emergency Advance #418325: These contributions will be more appreciated than ever. Headlines are generally made by emergencies, not long-term development needs, however critical they may be.
- Volunteering: Please check in with UMCOR partner United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and your VIM jurisdictional coordinator for more information, especially if you have specialized skills in the field of health and medicine.
- Join with others to assemble birthing kits and layette kits for shipment to Sager Brown or another of the depots in the UMCOR Relief-Supply Network. Thanks to your past generosity, we still have plenty of health kits.
- Stay informed: One way to do this is to visit www.umcor.org on a regular basis. You will find stories, updates, and, in January 2013, a new progress and strategy report covering health care and other vital sectors.
- Share information with your community or parish: Your passion for remaining with the people of Haiti over the long haul of their recovery from disaster is inspiring and has the power to redouble interest and support.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.