One change to the Acra tent camp since my last visit in June was apparent at its entrance. Whereas then, residents were collecting water in plastic buckets from a spigot whose output was of unknown provenance, now there is a shiny stainless steel tank ten or twelve feet tall and twenty or thirty feet in diameter filled with potable water. However, once Brillant and I passed this fountain of health, if not youth, the camp reverted to its prior character.
As we trod the same dusty trails lined by rivulets of flowing sewage that we had traversed before, we encountered familiar sights. Children abounded. Women of all ages sat outside their stiflingly hot homes, shelling peas, washing clothes in colorful plastic tubs, or just chatting with neighbors. We passed tiny shops selling candy, gum, cigarettes and a variety of other everyday sundries. The tailor’s shop, though not the tailor, that I had photographed on my last visit was still there, looking about as permanent as anything can in a tent camp. Then we came to the drainage canal that splits the camp and saw, on the far side, the cholera hospital, a toxic oasis completely surrounded by a ten foot tall blue tarp fence.
Crossing the canal on the new wood bridge, we walked around to the opposite side of the hospital, where the entrance is located. Brillant explained to the Haitian woman just inside the gate that I’m a journalist here to do stories on the situation one year after the earthquake and asked if we could speak to someone about access to the hospital. She disappeared for a few minutes, then returned followed by a young woman with short blond hair. Once she, her name is Julie, arrived, we were allowed to enter the camp. This involved three separate steps.
First, we had to rinse our hands in an antiseptic solution contained in a large bucket with a spigot. Then we had to step into and out of an antiseptic bath contained in a plastic pan about two feet wide by eighteen inches long, by four inches deep, sunk in the ground. Lastly, the gatekeeper sprayed the soles of our shoes. Once we were admitted, I explained to Julie in English why I was there and she said she would go get her colleague who speaks English better than she does to discuss the matter with me.
Justine, who is also young, but dark haired, is a nurse. Julie is a logistician and the two of them, forming a sort of salt and pepper team, are the sole representatives of a French NGO, Alliance for International Medical Assistance (ALIMA), under whose auspices it was created, in the hospital. Everyone else is Haitian, the idea being to have a minimal foreign presence and to organize the hospital so that if the foreigners leave, the Haitians will be fully capable of carrying on without them. ALIMA was founded only a year ago by several former members of Medecins sans Frontieres who wanted to do more community based work than MSF does.
In keeping with this concept, the three ALIMA cholera hospitals in the Port-au-Prince area are surrounded by a series of community clinics staffed completely by Haitians, which act as entry points to the system. Part of Julie’s job is to set up these clinics in association with the American Refugee Committee (ARC). When patients begin to show symptoms, they know through community outreach done by the Haitian ALIMA staff, to immediately go to the nearest clinic. Once there, they are transported by ambulance to the central ALIMA cholera hospital for their district.
At the hospital, patients enter through a triage tent where ALIMA staff determine the severity of the disease and assign them to one of three treatment tents in ascending order. Patients assigned to Tent A are only mildly ill and able to re-hydrate by drinking fluids. Patients assigned to Tent B are beyond the point where they can re-hydrate by drinking and must be given fluids through an IV. Patients assigned to Tent C, the most severely ill, and usually children and the elderly, receive fluids through an IV and the maximum level of monitoring.
Justine reported that the number of new cases has been in decline, averaging only ten or so a day recently, although the number spikes when it rains. Over the past two months, the Acra hospital has seen 600 patients. As it is forbidden to photograph patients at the hospital, and pictures of empty tents are of minimal interest, Brillant and I departed, repeating our ablutions on the way out, after concluding the interview. As we were working our way towards the camp exit, I spotted a nicely dressed man on the bank of the drainage canal, searching for something, probably loose change, with his hands plunged to the wrists into the water. Good thing for him there’s a cholera hospital on site.
To seee more pictures of the Acra camp, go to: www.vichinterlang.com.