At a glance: Dominican Republic

Haitian-American doctor cares for families evacuated to Dominican Republic

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HAITI/2010/Bakody
Dr. Yvonne Jean-Francois, a Haitian-American, has been volunteering as the medical director of a makeshift facility set up for injured earthquake survivors at a church in the Dominican border town of Jimani.

By Jennifer Bakody

JIMANI, Dominican Republic, 4 February 2010 – Down a dusty dirt road, amidst small houses, grazing goats and dirt yards, there’s an oatmeal-coloured cement church. Inside, the chairs are pushed back to the walls, the polished wooden pews are lined up in rows at the far side, and people are resting on ragged mattresses on the floor.

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The Evangelista Bethel Baptist Church has transformed itself into a medical step-down centre – which means that once their conditions have stabilized, hundreds of children and adults injured in Haiti’s 12 January earthquake come here to recuperate.

Volunteer doctor from New York
Like other makeshift facilities now operating in Jimani, a small town located on the Dominican border with Haiti, the one set up at the Bethel church is run entirely by volunteers. In the days just after the earthquake, one of those volunteers, Dr. Yvonne Jean-Francois, caught a flight from her home in New York and made her way to Jimani to manage the facility.

In a recent telephone interview with UNICEF Radio, she said she didn’t think twice when asked to sign on.

As a Haitian-American, Dr. Jean-Francois has always felt the need to come back to Haiti from time to time. On this trip, however, she has witnessed scenes she never expected to see, including many amputations, complicated fractures and other grave injuries.

The patients treated at the Bethel church are recovering from surgeries at a nearby hospital. Many of them have potentially life-changing injuries. “Most of these patients – a good 90 per cent of them – are disabled,” said Dr. Jean-Francois. “They have no access to medical care and they have no access to physical therapy,” she added. “I’m not very happy that most likely, they’re going to go to a camp.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Members of the medical staff at a hospital in Jimani, just inside the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti, prepare medicines for injured survivors of the earthquake.

Special care for children
The children at the church, and toddlers in particular, seem especially fearful, said Dr. Jean-Francois. To help protect and care for the youngest patients, she first separated them from the adults and then found a paediatrician and a nurse to help feed them, bathe them, and play and talk with them.

And in the midst of crisis, there are some positive stories to tell.

“One good thing is that we’ve had three newborns, and these kids are relatively healthy,” said Dr. Jean-Francois. She explained that one of the infants’ mothers is injured, the second is psychologically scarred but physically well, and the third is unhurt – though the third baby’s father has casts on legs and his arms.

Concerns about the future
Given the conditions facing earthquake survivors of all ages, Dr. Jean-Francois said she was worried about Haiti’s future.

“Haitians have lost a major portion of their workforce,” she lamented, “and that’s a problem.... Haitians are very much about work. If they’re disabled, they can’t work. What happens to your society?”

Dr. Jean-Francois also finds it hard to imagine how children can remain safe from trafficking and exploitation in the weeks and months ahead. “It’s just kids on the streets,” she said. “It’s much easier now for people to access children, especially because there are so many orphans.”

UNICEF Media Officer Rebecca Fordham agreed with Dr. Jean-Francois that strong child-protection systems for orphaned and separated children are urgently needed to help Haiti build back better than before. “Recovery starts with children and their communities, and only with children at the centre of the reconstruction effort can we build a new Haiti,” said Ms. Fordham.

UNICEF Image
© World Food Programme/2010
Outside the Bethel Baptist Church in Jimani, Dominican Republic, a Haitian girl snacks on high-energy food supplied by UNICEF and the World Food Programme. The church is a temporary site for medical, nutritional and other services.

A ‘guardian angel’
Many who have come to know Dr. Jean-Francois affectionately call her a ‘guardian angel’ of Haitian earthquake victims. For her, however, it’s clear that quake-affected children need a lot of other guardians to ensure a better future.

“I’m a physician, so I’m sort of restricted to medical care,” she said, adding that Haiti requires much more than that right now.


 

 

Audio

26 January 2010: Haitian-American Dr. Yvonne Jean-Francois talks about providing medical care for children and families injured in the 12 January earthquake in Haiti.
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