Emergency obstetrical care in Haiti, where maternal mortality is highest in western world

© Sergio Cecchini

Women in the capital city, where one-third of the country's population lives, often cannot pay for care. Violence in the city's streets also prevents them from obtaining essential medical assistance, either from fear of traveling outside during fighting or because health centres have closed due to nearby violence.

The women of Haiti suffer from the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western hemisphere. Approximately 523 women die for every 100,000 who give birth. In The Netherlands, only 16 women die during the same number of births.

To help prevent these deaths, MSF has started providing free, emergency care to women with high-risk pregnancies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In addition, the hospital will soon begin providing medical treatment and follow-up care to survivors of rape.

To provide care, the MSF team has completely renovated the 60-bed, Jude Anne Hospital located in the Delmas slum area of Port-au-Prince. This included building and outfitting an operating theatre as well as installing new water and sanitation systems.

Women in the capital city, where one-third of the country's population lives, often cannot pay for care. Violence in the city's streets also prevents them from obtaining essential medical assistance, either from fear of traveling outside during fighting or because health centres have closed due to nearby violence.

All women coming to the hospital go through triage and receive a thorough antenatal consultation to identify pregnancy-related problems, and any need for MSF care.

The team has already cared for women with various medical conditions including a high number with eclampsia - a disease affecting pregnant women that causes almost one half of all maternal deaths in Haiti. Providing quality emergency care, including a caesarean section, can save the lives of both mother and baby.

Before opening on March 15, the team publicized the hospital's services in the violent slum areas of Port-au-Prince using flyers, posters, graffiti and street banners. Health workers taught women to recognize the danger signs for which they should come to the hospital to seek care.

Staff from health centres in slum areas were also told how they could refer patients. These efforts seem to have paid off — when the hospital's doors opened, 40 pregnant women were already waiting for help.