Help for Haiti
Trips aim to improve health care in Haitian fishing villages
By Mina Radman
On the second day of the colleges of Pharmacy and Medicine’s spring break trip to Haiti, a boy walked into the clinic to ask for vitamins and Tylenol. He thought he had the flu. He’d didn’t mention the blood seeping out of his bandaged thumb.
“His expectations of help were so different, and we didn’t know if he was embarrassed, but it was clearly not what he had asked for help with,” said Judy Riffee, R.Ph., a program development coordinator for the UF College of Pharmacy and one of the participants in the weeklong trip.
The young boy, who visited the clinic while it was stationed in the Haitian village of Belizaire, had accidentally cut his thumb using a machete. A small piece of skin was holding it together. Once noticed, Jonathan Holloway, M.D., a UF Emergency Medicine resident, successfully sewed the boy’s thumb back on.
“It’s amazing that we were able to be there,” said Cam-tu Nguyen, a third-year student in the College of Pharmacy. “If we hadn’t noticed, it would have affected his ability to find work for the rest of his life.”
At the request of the Social Enterprise Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports sustainable development projects, Riffee, Tim Rogers, R.Ph., and Harvey Rohlwing, M.D., a faculty member in the College of Medicine, traveled to the Lac Azuei region of Haiti last year to assess the health needs of villagers there. Because the fishing villages around the lake are located in a remote place, people have limited access to basic goods and services, including health care. They organized the spring break trip upon their return to Florida.
Fifteen people attended the mission trip to Haiti, providing the villages of Belizaire, Fonds Bayard and Lylette with vitamins and other medicines. They also diagnosed illnesses, treated infections and created health records for those they helped. The clinic comprised triage, three medical stations, one pharmacy dispensing station and one pharmacy counseling station. More than 700 people visited the clinic in five days.
The team, which included both practitioners and students, worked in partnership with the Caribbean Harvest Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes fish farming development and serves those living in the impoverished villages surrounding Haiti’s largest lake. Eight pharmacy students and one medical student made the trip.
Lauren Lee, a fourth-year medical student, said working with the College of Pharmacy gave her a new outlook on medicine.
“Working side-by-side with the pharmacists helped me be even more aware of various medication issues, for example, how a medicine tastes to a child,” she said. “It’s not something I would have necessarily thought of before.”
Rohlwing said he plans to take a follow-up trip to Haiti in the next four to five months. Riffee said the return trips allow them to follow people in the villages who had chronic conditions. The next trip may not include as many students, however, due to the academic calendar.
“We have the sense that these people need us enough that they could use more than one visit per year,” Riffee said. “It’s our goal to visit these villages at least three times per year.”