Avera: A Friend to Haiti
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Published on December 21, 2017

Dr. Katie Wolf with a patient in Haiti

Avera: A Friend to Haiti

A mission known as Friends For Health in Haiti has a friend in Avera.

Since 2002 Avera has been raising funds and taking mission trips to the Grand’Anse, which is the westernmost part of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Avera volunteers support and participate in the work of a clinic operated by Friends For Health in Haiti, a hospice and an orphanage in the city of Jérémie, and a Breast Health Initiative that assists local physicians in providing education, clinics, ultrasounds and biopsies for women in the region.

Katie Wolf, MD, Founder, Executive Director and Clinic Director of Friends for Health in Haiti, recently visited Sioux Falls and was interviewed on South Dakota Public Radio.

“Our partnership with Avera has been a wonderful partnership. Avera is able to supply us with a lot of equipment and supplies we would not be able to acquire otherwise. We get most of our funding from individuals and churches, but having a partner like Avera is wonderful because when a big hospital system is updating equipment or changing models, we are able to acquire some of this used equipment, and it’s a huge benefit to us,” Wolf said. “It helps us to give more service and improve the functions we provide in Haiti.”

Many Services For the People

The clinic draws people from the mountains outside of Jérémie. “It’s a very underserved area because it is so far from the capital city of Port of Prince,” Wolf said.

A tin-roof clinic was built in 2007. “We started seeing patients and established a medical recordkeeping system.” By 2011, the mission had raised enough funds to start construction of a permanent clinic building, a pharmacy and residential quarters where visitors or volunteers can stay.

Volunteer groups come from churches and health systems including Avera. “They enhance the services we provide by providing specialty services and helping our own staff,” Wolf said.

The director of the Avera mission teams, Kathy English, RN, has been to Haiti dozens of times and handles all the participant logistics. “Without exception, when volunteers comment on their experience, they mention their pride in working for a health care system that is also committed to improving Third World health care,” English said.

Common conditions treated include high blood pressure, diabetes, skin diseases and infections, and malaria. There are also injuries from machetes and motorcycle accidents on the mountainous roads. Avera has helped bring improved awareness and screening for cervical and breast cancer to the region.

Facing Natural Disasters

When Hurricane Matthew struck in October of 2016, it destroyed or took the roofs off of 90 percent of houses in the clinic’s service area. “Animals were killed and the crops were lost. It really was devastating, not just because of the damage to shelter but the damage to people’s livelihood. If they don’t have crops or animals, they have difficulty surviving,” Wolf said.

The clinic, a concrete building, remained intact and was functioning two weeks after the hurricane. “We did distribute relief materials in the area and began a house-building project,” Wolf said. Friends for Health in Haiti also established a designated fund in which 100 percent of funds go toward building materials such as sheets of tin and other roofing materials. “We were able to help in the rebuilding of 1,400 houses but there’s still a huge need.”

Students and volunteers from America who visit Haiti have an impact, yet the experience also has an impact on their lives. “One of the main things that people realize is that the world is larger than just the United States. We can get so caught up with our work and activities here that we forget there’s a whole world of people out there – especially in Third World countries like Haiti – where people are lacking in just the basics of life."

"They are busy all day trying to get enough food to feed their families and are just happy being able to survive. It gives you a greater appreciation of the world in general and that people in the U.S. are just so blessed to have what we have,” Wolf said.

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