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Treating Patients Without Tools: Haiti's Diabetes Crisis

Treating Patients Without Tools: Haiti's Diabetes Crisis

Picture of Francine Kaufman, M.D.

Editor's Note: Francine Kaufman, M.D is visiting Haiti with a relief mission for La Fondation Haitienne de Diabete et de Maladies Cardio-Vasculaires or FHADIMAC. She is traveling with her husband, Neal, also a doctor, and with Evelyne Fleury Milfort, a USC nurse practitioner and certified diabetes educator. At a time when much attention has focused on basic needs for Haitians, Dr. Kaufman, a pediatric diabetes specialist, sees another side of Haiti's misery, the unmet need for care and basic equipment for Haiti's diabetic children and adults. Insulin supplies are scarce and glucose meters, critical to monitor the glucose level of diabetics, are also hard to find, even in hospitals. "Our needs are great," FHADIMAC says on its Website. Dr. Kaufman will be sharing her experiences on Reporting on Health during her trip. She sends her updates from her Blackberry.

-- Michelle Levander

Day 1:

Port-au-Prince-I cannot even begin to describe what we have seen. There are 23,000 people living in a tent city near our hotel. Debris, rubble, people in the streets, protests and broken down everything make it impossible to get anywhere.

The public hospital in Port-au-Prince is the most under-resourced, filthy, overwhelmed health care facility we have ever seen. We've seen patients with Meningitis, diarrhea, infections. When I tried to help three kids with diabetes, there was not even a glucose meter to be found in the hospital. All this makes it near to impossible to help people.

The look on people's faces seems to be resignation. It is obvious that if this is what has been accomplished after one year, then it will take two or more decades to even return to the grim conditions found in Haiti before the earthquake when Haiti's life expectancy ranked as the worst in the Western hemisphere as did its infant mortality rate.

Today, 75 percent of births here take place at home without medical care and many ordinary people put more faith in voodoo or folk medicine over our type. Faith may take you further in a country with no ventilators in the NICU and where 50 percent of those children diagnosed with diabetes die at diagnosis.

And yet, in the midst of all this, we watched a little boy and girl being walked to preschool by their father after emerging from one of the tent cities. They were in clean uniforms and the girl had yellow ribbons tied in neat bows around her pigtails.

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