Haitian doctor watches unrest in his country from Perryville

February 24, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

As thousands of protesters fill the streets of Dr. Carl Puzo's home in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, he watches on CNN from Kim Divine's living room in Perryville.

Puzo has come to Central Kentucky to visit missionaries and churches here that have helped the hospital, Maternite Issaie Jeanty Chancerelles, where he works.

As the uprisings escalated on Sunday, Puzo visited Doctor's Fork Baptist and Hedgeville Baptist churches. He told the members there that he is not worried about his wife and children who stayed behind in Port-Au-Prince. Two days before he left, someone was shot 200 meters from his house; still, he isn't worried.

"I believe that I am covered by the blood the Lord shed," he said. "My wife, kids, family and people at the hospital know Christ and respect his ways."


He is skittish about discussing politics. Instead he prefers to talk about the health needs of the people in Haiti.

Rebels are trying to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They have reportedly taken over the country's largest city, Cap-Haitien, and warn that next they will go into Port-Au-Prince.

Aristide has agreed to replace the prime minister and government. The turmoil in the country still appears to be far from over. The United States has asked all U.S. citizens, who are not on government business, to leave the country while commercial air service is still in operation.

Puzo is prepared to go home, if air travel from Miami to Haiti is going to be stopped. He doesn't want to be separated from his family.

However, while he is here he wants to do what he can to gather supplies for his hospital and patients, who desperately need it. He says that improving the health care system should be an important part of any changes in the government.

Port-Au-Prince's population has boomed in the past decade because people in the rural, mountain areas are coming to the city looking for jobs. The growth has strained the health care system, which has stayed the same and now struggles to keep up with demand.

There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Sometimes Puzo has to turn patients away because he doesn't have disposable gloves to do surgeries. Those patients are referred to other hospitals that may be full or unable to provide care.

The hospital is not up to par even with Haitian standards of sterility, which are far below those in the U.S. When area missionaries went in January to paint at Maternite Issaie Jeanty Chancerelles they had to leave the first day because of dried blood and needles on the floor of a ward. Haitians were hired to clean the room, and the missionaries returned to paint. But they still had to avoid one examination room because the walls were splattered with dried blood.

Divine has worked with Crusades for Christ, a London-based ministry, to get disinfectant products, so that the hospital staff can clean. She has also worked to get equipment to set up a lab, and has found mattresses, IVs and other supplies for the hospital.

Crusades' work has improved services for patients by 30 percent, Puzo said.

80 percent unemployment and an average salary of $30 a month

Maternite Issaie Jeanty Chancerelles is a state-run hospital. Patients there used to be able to go for free, but now have to pay a small fee to cover basic costs. The bill to have a baby is $7.50. This is still a staggering cost in a country where there is 80 percent unemployment and the average salary is $30 a month.

Born in Haiti, Puzo left when he was 9-years-old and didn't return until 1994. He was practicing medicine in Boston and went back to visit his family. Like many of the Kentucky missionaries, Puzo said the conditions shocked him.

He and his family decided to move back to Haiti and try to help. Now he runs Health Outreach Haiti, an organization that helps train doctors and treats people in the countryside.

At 5:30 a.m. people start knocking on his door, asking for help. Puzo said he spends 60 -100 percent of his time volunteering his services. The work demand is inexhaustible, he said.

"Think about trying to live on $1 day in a country where there is no electricity, no running water and not enough schools or work," he said. "All of this affects the people's health."

If a person has a fever they will first try to cure it with home remedies, like an orange-leaf tea. The person may have Typhoid Fever or Malaria, but the remedy will bring down the temperature for a few days. By the time they decide to go to the doctor, the situation is advanced.

While he is here, Puzo has asked the members of the missionary churches to keep praying and supporting Crusades' work with Haiti and his hospital.

He tried to illustrate the situation to the people at Doctor's Fork Baptist Church by telling them that there are people who have lived 85 years and have never had a slice of ham.

"Go to Haiti and see what I am trying to tell you," he said. "You are blessed here."

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