posted on Feb. 7: Making a world of difference to Haitian women’s health


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Peter George, Mario Alvarez, Ragine Plancher, Sist”]Henry Muggah is making a difference. A huge difference that, ultimately, will change the lives of thousands of women and their unborn children.

The professor of obstetrics & gynecology and former chief of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph's Hospital has been awarded $750,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency to study the reproductive health needs of women in the Republic of Haiti. This funding, combined with in-kind contributions from McMaster University and the State University of Haiti, totals $1.8 million for the five-year project.

This week representatives from the State University of Haiti — Mario Alvarez, dean of medicine and pharmacology and Ragine Plancher — are in Hamilton meeting with their McMaster colleagues to plan the project and visit local health care programs.

There are an estimated eight million people living in Haiti, 25 per cent of whom are women of childbearing age. The levels of morbidity and mortality associated with pregnancy and birth in Haiti are unacceptably high, says Muggah, adding that at least 80 per cent of these women deliver their babies at home. He says that it's estimated that the maternal mortality rate is somewhere between 500-600 deaths per 100,000 live births and that the infant mortality rate is slightly over 100 per 1,000 live births. To put this into perspective, Muggah says that the risk of death during childbirth in Haiti is 100 times greater than in the province of Ontario.

Working with Muggah are Andrea Baumann, associate dean of the School of Nursing, Karyn Kaufman, chair of the midwifery education program, Bob Hutchison, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University Medical Centre, and Alex Dauphin, assistant clinical professor of anaesthesia at St. Joseph's Hospital, who has been working with the State University of Haiti since 1992.

The project, which will include both faculty and student exchanges, will partner with Faculty of Health Sciences' schools of medicine, nursing and midwifery, the State University of Haiti's faculties of medicine and pharmacology and school of nursing, with International Child Care, a Haitian-based non-governmental organization (NGO).

The plan is to develop and enhance existing capacities in the training and preparation of university faculty and NGO health care workers to meet the needs of women and children in the area of reproductive health. The emphasis will be on developing curriculum which will address the high maternal morbidity and mortality rates.

“It's unbelievably and unbearably sad to see these tragedies,” says Muggah. He's convinced, however, that he and his colleagues can make a difference. He says that, as a whole, the Haitian population has the utmost respect for education and he believes that their willingness to learn, to be taught and to help themselves, will indeed effect change.

McMaster is already regarded as a leader in the management of international development projects including partnerships with universities in Chile, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, El Salvador, Pakistan and Beijing. Muggah, himself, has been involved directly in similar projects in the former Republic of Russia, Romania and Uganda.

This time, however, the team will be working closely with an NGO (headed up by McMaster graduate Dr. John Yates) which, according to Muggah, will allow for direct access to the rural communities where the mortality and morbidity rates are at their highest.

Photo: (L to R) McMaster University President Peter George, Mario Alvarez, dean of medicine and pharmacology, State University of Haiti, Ragine Plancher, State University of Haiti, Sister Margaret Kane, Sisters of St. Joseph's of Hamilton, Henry Muggah, professor of obstetrics & gynecology.

Photo credit: Ron Scheffler