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State-Of-The-Art Hospital Offers Hope For Haiti

A worker pushes a wheelbarrow past the new National Teaching Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti, on Jan. 10. When it opens this summer, the 320-bed facility will be Haiti's largest hospital and provide services and a level of care well beyond what's currently available. (AP)

Even before the devastating earthquake in 2010, Haiti's public health care system was perhaps the worst in the Western Hemisphere. Then the quake knocked down clinics, killed medical workers and severely damaged the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Now, the Boston-based group Partners in Health has set out to build a world-class teaching hospital in what used to be a rice field in the Haitian countryside.

Amid much talk about the slow pace of recovery, the hospital is a concrete sign of progress. The project is also being touted as a possible model for international aid in the developing world.

Dr. David Walton is overseeing the construction of the National Teaching Hospital, about 35 miles outside the capital in the small city of Mirebalais.

Walton is a physician with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, but on a recent day he looks more like a construction foreman. He says this hospital, which will be part of the public health care system, will provide services and a level of care that is light years ahead of what is currently available in Haiti.

For instance, the hospital will be wired with a fiber-optic data connection.

"We'll have cameras in the operating room in the lights so that you can see surgery from anywhere," Walton explains. "That will allow surgeons in whatever country to comment on and assist in the technical details of surgery that's being done right here in Haiti ... leveraging technology to improve care here."

Outstanding Infrastructure, Low Cost

When it opens this summer, it will be the largest hospital in the country — with six operating theaters, an emergency room and a neonatal intensive care unit. It will be the only public facility in Haiti with a CT scan machine.

In Boston, Walton says, a single hospital is likely to have 12 CT scan machines. In Haiti, the entire country has only four — three of which are in the private sector. The fourth, which will be at the new teaching hospital, will be "for the people of Haiti," he says.

The roof will be covered in solar panels, which allow the facility to run entirely on solar power on sunny days.

Partners in Health's budget for this massive, 320-bed, 180,000-square-foot facility is $16 million.

Walton notes that the group has received another $4 million worth of in-kind donations, mainly medical equipment and construction supplies. The final price tag for this new national teaching hospital will be less than 1 percent of the billions of dollars in international aid that were pledged to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.

"One of the lessons this hospital can provide is how to provide really outstanding infrastructure and construction practices at a fraction of what it may cost in other settings," Walton says, "and I would argue at a fraction of what it may cost versus other projects that are being done here."

The Canadian government this month pledged $20 million just to move squatters out of a huge tent encampment in front of the National Palace.

Looking around Haiti, this hospital is one of the few solid examples of post-quake reconstruction. There are private projects to build new hotels. The cellphone company Digicel rebuilt the historic Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. But the National Palace is still awaiting demolition. Many of the cholera clinics that have sprung up are in tents or temporary shelters.

Serving Multiple Purposes

At a dedication for the hospital just before the second anniversary of the earthquake, the Haitian minister of health, Dr. Florence Guillaume, said that for her, this project is a dream come true.

"I'm really proud, almost crying this morning. It's really this type of assistance that we need," she said.

Guillaume says this hospital will help bolster the entire public health care system in Haiti in several ways.

First, other clinics and hospitals will be able to refer patients there for more complicated procedures and tests.

Second, as a teaching hospital it will help train more Haitian doctors and nurses. And by providing a better work environment, she hopes it will help stem the exodus of Haitian medical professionals who so often decamp for the U.S. or Canada.

Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners in Health, says he views this hospital project as a model for effective international aid.

"The amount of money either pledged or flying around out there is substantial," Farmer says. "If it were marshaled into a coherent system of hospitals, health posts, you could see some big, big improvements in health indices in Haiti, and that's what we expect to happen."

The National Teaching Hospital still faces big challenges. Construction is on track but still not complete. At first, the Ministry of Health and Partners in Health will be running the facility together, but eventually the Haitian government needs to come up with an operating budget to keep the hospital running for the long term.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to report next on a sign of progress amid the rubble in Haiti. Two years after an earthquake, half a million people are still living in camps. But people who want to help can now point to one project that is working well enough that supporters call it a possible model for international aid in the developing world. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports on a new national teaching hospital being built outside Port-au-Prince.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Even before the earthquake, Haiti's public health care system was one of the worst in the hemisphere. Then the quake knocked down clinics, killed medical workers and severely damaged the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Now the Boston-based group Partners in Health has set out to build a world-class hospital in what used to be a rice field in the Haitian countryside.

DR. DAVID WALTON: This is a little waiting area for the main laboratory and radiology.

BEAUBIEN: Dr. David Walton is overseeing the construction of the National Teaching Hospital, 35 miles outside the capital in the small city of Mirebalais. Walton is a physician with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, but on this day he looks more like a construction foreman.

He says this hospital, which will be part of the public health care system, will provide services and a level of care that's light-years ahead of what's currently available in Haiti. For instance, the hospital will be wired with a fiber-optic data connection.

WALTON: We'll have cameras in the operating room in the lights so that you can see surgery from anywhere. That will allow surgeons in whatever country to be able to comment on and assist in the technical details of the surgery that's being done right here in Haiti. So again, leveraging technology to improve care here.

BEAUBIEN: When it opens this summer, it will be the largest hospital in the country. There'll be six operating theaters, an emergency room and a neo-natal intensive care unit. It will be the only public facility in Haiti with a CAT scan machine.

WALTON: Now, back in Boston where I work, there's about maybe 12 CAT scanners in one single hospital. Here there are only four in the country. Three of them are in the private sector, so this will be the fourth and it'll be for the people of Haiti.

BEAUBIEN: The roof will be covered in solar panels, allowing the facility on sunny days to run entirely on solar power. Partners in Health's budget for this massive 320 bed, 180,000-square-foot facility is just $16 million. Walton notes that they've gotten another four million worth of in-kind donations, mainly medical equipment and construction supplies.

But the final price tag for this new national teaching hospital will be less than one percent of the billions of dollars in international aid that were pledged to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.

WALTON: One of the lessons that I think this hospital can provide is how to provide really outstanding infrastructure and construction practices at a fraction of what it may cost in other settings, and I would argue a fraction of what it may cost versus other projects that are being done here.

BEAUBIEN: The Canadian government this month just pledged $20 million to move squatters out of a huge tent encampment in front of the National Palace.

Looking around Haiti, this hospital is one of the few solid examples of post-quake reconstruction. There are private projects to build new hotels. An industrial park is under construction. The cell phone company Digicel rebuilt the historic Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. But the National Palace is still awaiting demolition. Many of the cholera clinics that have sprung up are in tents or temporary shelters.

At a dedication for the hospital just before the second anniversary of the earthquake, the Haitian Minister of Health, Dr. Florence Guillaume, said this project for her is a dream come true.

DR. FLORENCE GUILLAUME: I can tell you, I'm really proud. I'm almost crying this morning, you know? It's really that type of assistance that we need.

BEAUBIEN: She says this hospital will help bolster the entire public health care system in Haiti. First, other clinics and hospitals will be able to refer patients here for more complicated procedures and tests. Second, as a teaching hospital it will help train more Haitian doctors and nurses. And by providing a better work environment, she hopes it will help stem the exodus of Haitian medical professionals who so often decamp for the U.S. or Canada.

Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners in Health, says that he views this hospital project as a model for effective international aid.

PAUL FARMER: The amount of money either pledged or flying out there around somewhere is substantial. If it were marshaled into a coherent system of hospitals, health centers, health posts, then you could see some big, big advancements in public health indices in Haiti. And in fact, that's what we expect to happen.

BEAUBIEN: The National Teaching Hospital still faces large challenges. Construction is on track but still not complete. At first, the Ministry of Health and Partners in Health will manage the facility together. But eventually the Haitian government needs to come up with an operating budget to keep the hospital running for the long term.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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