PHYSICIANS FOR PEACE CELEBRATES 12 YEARS OF HELPING PEOPLE WALK, RUN AND THRIVE
Travel from Port-au-Prince to Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti, and you’ll pass children on their way to school, new buildings along the road and, at the hospital, Haitian staff providing care and comfort to patients. The sights signal important advances for Haitians recovering from the country’s humanitarian crises, said Mary Kwasniewski, senior director of Global Health Programs. “The work in Haiti remains ‘beautifully hard’ – a phrase coined by one of our physical therapists – but there is a sense of rebuilding, as communities and families come back together,” Kwasniewski said. “At our partner sites, 2012 is the year that Haitians take control.”
Two years after Haiti’s devastating earthquake – and a year after a significant cholera outbreak – Haitian healthcare providers are stepping into key roles at Physicians for Peace (PFP) partner sites in both Deschapelles and Port-au-Prince. The management shift from foreign workers to Haitians is a crucial “next step” in PFP program plans in Haiti – one that will help ensure Haitians are prepared to meet their own long-term healthcare needs. Since the earthquake in Haiti, PFP has deployed 39 physical therapists to the Hanger Amputee Clinic at Albert Schweitzer Hospital and supported partners with shipments of goods and equipment, including mobility devices and hospital beds. During two-week missions, PFP provided direct care to patients and worked alongside Haitians, including O&P technicians, to deliver training.
For Sue Klappa, PT, PhD, of Minnesota, her first mission to the clinic was about “building the scaffolding for collaboration” among providers. On a follow-up mission last spring, the progress was clear. “I saw (everyone) working together,” she said. “The technicians were taking on a more active, leadership role.” This year, PFP will mobilize follow-up missions for targeted training, but a Haitian physical therapist will take over much of the rehabilitation work. “As U.S. citizens, we need to be aware globally,” Klappa said. “It’s not true that we have to give up something to give things to others. It doesn’t take a lot to change society.” The New Year also brings an increased focus on team approaches to care. The Hanger Clinic already has broadened its services to include orthotics, and in Port-au-Prince, PFP partner Healing Hands for Haiti will train Haitian rehabilitation nurses. In fact, all of PFP’s partners in Haiti – including St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children and the Catholic Medical Mission Board – maintain staffs that are predominantly Haitian,meaning that the services, education and salaries these partners provide stay in Haiti.
REACHING THOSE IN GREATEST NEED
In the Philippines, the Walking Free program has entered a new phase – moving far beyond prosthesis delivery alone, said volunteer director Dr. Penny Bundoc, one of PFP’s 2011 Medical Diplomat Award Winners. For eight years, Bundoc and her team have been working to serve patients with disabilities – a daunting task in a nation made up of more than 7,000 islands. To reach patients, PFP-Philippines teams have engaged a wide variety of techniques, using smart phone technology, for instance, to transmit information from rural areas back to a centralized location. The team is also working closely with partners to open satellite centers around the country, so that people with disabilities don’t have to travel as far to receive care. The biggest challenge, however, according to Bundoc, is to make sure that people with disabilities have opportunities to be part of a larger community.
“Assisting people with disabilities toward functional independence and economic empowerment means providing them avenues towards community reintegration, inclusion and participation once they have been provided with prostheses,” Bundoc said.
Patients will also benefit from the opening in 2011 of a landmark prosthetic and orthotic school – a low-cost, high tech education and research center, and the first school of its kind in the Philippines.
RAISING THE LEVEL OF PROFESSIONALISM
PFP has supported Dominican partners and their efforts to improve care for people with disabilities since 2001. Over the years, that support has taken many forms: in 2006, for instance, Catholic University in Santo Domingo graduated its first class of physical therapists. PFP and Old Dominion University helped the school develop the curriculum for that inaugural group. The program is still thriving.
PFP also works with Dominican technicians enrolled in a distancelearning program through Don Bosco University in El Salvador. The program ensures that techs are trained and qualified at a professional level, one that’s internationally recognized, so that they can earn a living and support the needs of patients in their communities, without outside intervention.
“Working with these students is incredibly rewarding,” said Gilberto Mejia, CP, of Richmond, Va., a PFP volunteer since 2002. “Through the program, they’re expanding their knowledge, so that they have the practical skills and also understand why we do things a certain way.”
That long-view approach is what initially attracted David Lawrence, MSPT, ATC, of Richmond, Va., to PFP, and it’s a reason he’s remained dedicated to the organization – and the people of the Dominican Republic – for the past 12 years.
“Rehabilitation is a lifetime commitment, you can’t parachute in and leave,” Lawrence said. “When we started in the Dominican Republic, we were going into a country where there were no certified, licensed physical therapists or prosthetists. Through education, we are creating a model of aid that is sustainable.”
Gail Grisetti, PT, EdD, of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. agrees. In addition to training Dominican therapists and contributing to curriculum development, Grisetti coordinates an annual educational exchange with students from her graduate-level courses – an effort that has opened American students’ eyes to the challenges of therapy in an international context. “We want our students to become culturally competent and to demonstrate understanding and compassion,” Grisetti said. “This is one excellent way to do that.”