Bringing the Doctor to Grace Emmanuel School

Marie Lyne, school nurse, organizes a mobile medical clinic for students, staff, and families

At the beginning of April, I noticed Peter*, an 8th grader, struggling with a skin condition. When the basic treatment I provided didn’t alleviate the problem, I recommended he go to a dermatologist for more follow up.

Peter shared with me that his father had been sick for days, and his family couldn’t even afford food. He had no hope for seeking further health care.

Access to quality health care has always been a challenge in Haiti, especially for lower class families. Public hospitals are vastly underfunded, often lacking basic medical supplies and health professionals. According to the World Health Organization in 2015, less than half of the population in Haiti has access to health services, with less than 6 health professionals for every 10,000 people. (By contrast, the US has 26 physicians and 157 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people.)

Over the last few years, with the rampant insecurity problem, the situation has deteriorated further. Countless doctors have fled Haiti, making it nearly impossible for lower class families to have access to health care.

One small solution takes shape

Peter’s story broke my heart and made me wonder how many other students and their parents were suffering right now and couldn’t afford medical services. We do what we can through the nurse’s office at school, but our resources are limited to basic interventions. I began to think about what else we could do.

I knew most parents wouldn’t come to the school to ask for help—Haitians have pride regarding their family’s situation.

But they would come if invited. That is when I thought of a mobile clinic. Students and their parents could be invited to freely consult with medical professionals over two days.

As I began sharing the possibility of the clinic with the parents of kindergarteners, I quickly saw that the need would surpass what I had anticipated. To make it manageable, we would have to limit this clinic to students and the parents of kindergarteners with the greatest needs.

I reached out to colleagues for help, and soon a team of two doctors, three nurses, and one nursing student were assembled.

A welcome relief

Over two days in May, our expectations were far exceeded. I had planned for 70 people, but we received 200 students, parents, and staff members.

We felt overwhelmed, but the faces of the people rushing to be seen showed us how much this medical clinic was a needed relief.

One student, diagnosed with anemia, told us: “I’ve felt frail and tired for months. I told my parents, but they couldn’t take me to a doctor. They just asked me to wait indefinitely.”

Anemia was one of the most common diagnoses at the clinic, as well as ulcers, H-pylori, urinary infection, scabies, typhoid, high blood pressure—the most common diseases in Haiti.

We provided free medication because we knew people couldn’t purchase their prescriptions.

The team of doctors and nurses who provided the 2-day clinic

Afterwards, I debriefed with the other health professionals who took part. We were all pleased with this first attempt, though we all agreed we needed access to further testing beyond what our mobile lab could provide.

This mobile clinic was a welcome relief and blessing in the life of so many. We pray this was only the beginning.

Marie Lyne has served as Grace Emmanuel School’s nurse since 2015. When she’s not treating an injury or checking a temperature, she is educating students and their families on everything health-related. Marie Lyne is currently working toward a masters degree in nutrition.