Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS), a hospital and community health system located in Haiti’s rural Artibonite Valley founded in 1956 by Dr. Larry Mellon and his wife Gwen, has been awarded a $75,000 grant from the M·A·C AIDS Fund to bolster efforts for HIV prevention and effective treatment.
The grant will better equip the hospital to test pregnant women for HIV and syphilis, especially during emergency deliveries, to reduce the risk of mother-to-child disease transmission, subsequent health issues and infant deaths. HAS serves a population of over 350,000 and is one of the few hospitals in Haiti that is equipped to handle high-risk deliveries. Its HIV rate among obstetric patients is 10 percent higher than Haiti’s general population.
“HAS is the designated delivery site for HIV-positive expectant mothers in the region we serve,” said HAS Medical Director, Dr. Herriot Sannon. “As the number of high-risk pregnant women HAS is serving continues to rise, it’s imperative we strengthen our testing, treatment and care program for all obstetric patients, and keep pace with national goals to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.”
In the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, which has the Caribbean’s highest HIV rate, the grant will equip HAS to upgrade its HIV and syphilis testing program by evaluating women within one hour of arrival. As needed, medical professionals will be able to intervene immediately with antiretroviral drugs or penicillin to protect the mother and newborn child.
In addition, the grant will be used to strengthen HAS’s follow-up care after discharge so that mothers and babies continue taking antiretroviral drugs and complete syphilis treatment, including penicillin medication.
“Administering medications immediately can protect both the mother and newborn child,” said Sannon. “Being welcoming to women in this fragile state is vital to reducing the high rates of maternal mortality we see in Haiti and throughout the developing world. At HAS, we see the impact of compassionate, high-quality maternal care. In Haiti, 55 of every 1,000 women die in childbirth each year. Of the 1, 052 births managed at HAS last year, just six women died from pregnancy-related causes.”
Maternal-child syphilis transmission remains a leading cause of infant mortality. More than 3,000 Haitian babies are born with congenital syphilis every year, even though this can be prevented upon detection.
“The rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Haiti is nearly 8 percent, but with appropriate intervention and treatment, this can be greatly reduced,” said Sannon.
HAS’s maternity ward operates at overcapacity every day and delivered approximately 1200 babies in 2014, a 10 percent increase from the prior year. The majority of women present themselves in emergency situations. Frequently, patients have not been HIV or syphilis-tested prior to arrival because they are coming from outside the HAS primary care area, or they arrive without a referral note from their primary care provider, making their health status unknown.