Every day the queues form early outside a remote Haiti dispensary where crowds of sick people jostle for a precious ticket granting them virtually free treatment and medicine.
Many have trekked by foot for hours to reach the dispensary in the far southwest village of Carrefour-Charles, which was set up in August by Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), but has quickly become swamped by patients.
“I walked for three hours to get here, because I knew I would be well cared for and wouldn’t be charged very much,“ said 76-year-old farmer, Vincent Accius, who was suffering from a high fever, and still clearly exhausted by his ordeal, reported AFP.
Each patient is only charged some 25 gourdes (50 cents) for treatment and medicine, while pregnant women and children under five go free.
But the scheme, aimed at helping some of the impoverished Caribbean nation’s poorest and most isolated people get access to badly-needed health care, is now groaning under the weight of its patients, with the numbers having quadrupled since last year.
“We are completely overwhelmed. We can’t take more than 40 people a day. Sometimes we have to send as many as 80 away, and we give them tickets for the next day,“ said senior nurse Marie-Jeanne Felix.
A sea of hands stretches out in desperation every morning as the nurses hand out consultation tickets to the waiting queue: last ticket, last hope of being seen that day.
The journey from the tiny town of Jeremie, 30-kilometre (18-mile) further west along the peninsula, to the clinic had taken Ginette Voltaire, 31, seven hours.
She and her sick 11-year-old son had driven part of the way along bumpy dirt tracks before the road ran out and the pair had to pick their way by foot across open countryside.
“There is a dispensary closer to my house, but I would have had to pay and I don’t have any money,“ Voltaire said.
“This is going to quickly become a problem“ said Jean-Khit Dely, the regional coordinator for Medecins du Monde.
The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of the Haitian population lives below the poverty line on less than two dollars a day.
“At Carrefour-Charles we don’t have enough human resources and we simply don’t have enough space to do more than 40 consultations a day,“ Dely added.
“Free treatment should be spread to other dispensaries to spread access to services more fairly and more equally.“
Most of the country’s health services are concentrated in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and some 80 percent of the population will first turn to traditional doctors for treatment before committing themselves to a journey to a hospital. Link to source