In aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Dr. Philippe’s nonprofit Sante Haiti brings medical relief to Haiti’s citizens
Hurricane Matthew made landfall as a Category 4 storm on southwestern Haiti on the morning of October 4. Force winds, estimated at 74 mph, battered the island nation and its citizens. One month after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, UNICEF reported that nearly 600,000 children remained in need of humanitarian assistance, facing disease, hunger, and malnutrition.
Jonathan Philippe, M.D., a family care practitioner at Mosaic Life Care in Platte City, was born and raised in Haiti. As founder of Sante Haiti, Dr. Philippe did not hesitate to put the meager resources of his healthcare nonprofit to work. Exactly one month after Hurricane Matthew struck, the doctor undertook a four-day medical mission to the beleaguered nation.
“I was the only one traveling from the US. The team members in Haiti were already on the ground to assist. We distributed food and cholera medication because the water was not safe,” says Dr. Philippe. “Cholera was already a problem. We provided rehydration treatment and medicine distribution by working with local church groups. We helped more than 500 families.”
Cholera, an infectious, often fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine, is typically contracted from infected water supplies and causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew, or the devastating earthquake that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale in 2010, have led to widespread cholera outbreaks, killing thousands and sickening a few hundred thousand.
By November 23, 2016, the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization reported that 1.4 million people were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. More than 175,000 people were placed in shelters. Total suspected cholera cases reached nearly 6,300 cases.
Dr. Philippe founded Sante Haiti in 2008 when he was a medical student long before he could practice medicine as a physician. He registered the organization in 2012 as a nonprofit. Even then, Philippe sought to do what he could to improve healthcare for his fellow Haitians.
“Initially, I went to help check blood pressure and provide basic treatment,” says Dr. Philippe. “I wanted to give back.”
In the years since, Haiti’s population has needed ongoing medical assistance as it recovers from calamities and regains a sense of normalcy. Proper resources are needed for daily care and sanitary conditions.
By the end of February 2017, Dr. Philippe had returned to Haiti three times to continue administering aid. In December 2016, his journey focused on food distribution.
“I didn’t want people to worry about food at the end of the year,” says Dr. Philippe. “We distributed rice, spaghetti, cooking oil, soap, detergent, and water treatment.”
Haiti’s medical needs are far more than what one doctor can address. Dr. Philippe’s vision is to not only respond to these needs during a crisis but to also provide fundamental healthcare that improves the daily lives of Haiti’s people.
Today, Sante Haiti consists of seven staff members in the United States that primarily raise funds and coordinate trips. Five other team members in Haiti work in the field. Sante Haiti depends on OB/GYNs, surgeons, dieticians, and others to volunteer their time and services toward providing comprehensive care on medical missions.
Dr. Philippe’s most recent trip in February included a contingent of professionals from the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.
“I was a consultant to help train doctors and teach residents,” says Dr. Philippe. “I met with officials including a representative from the Minister of Health and deans from medical schools to promote comprehensive care and family medicine.”
Access to healthcare remains limited, especially in Haiti’s rural areas. Citizens do not receive frequent care simply because not enough clinics and resources exist.
“When we started the program, I would go once a year. After we were done, what then? Most people had to wait until the next year,” says Dr. Philippe.
Now, three nurses do basic checkups for hypertension and diabetes every two weeks. Dr. Philippe says, “We pay local physicians directly to provide continuity of care.”
Still, this tactical healthcare approach is overshadowed by the mountain of need among the country’s populace. Sante Haiti’s goal is to build a clinic and regularly serve patients at a dedicated location.
Since 2008, Sante Haiti’s operations have been underwritten by personal funds, organizational funds, and fundraising. Dr. Philippe even used a portion of his school loans as a medical student to fund the nonprofit.
“It’s a calling,” says Dr. Philippe, who plans to return for another medical aid trip in late May 2017. “At this moment, our primary need is financial. For this trip in May, we need $10,000 to buy medications and supplies. By early 2018, we need more money to build a clinic in the rural area Jean Rabel in the northwestern part of Haiti. It will be expensive because we have to bring supplies from the capital of Haiti to rural areas on unpaved roads.”
Dr. Philippe, who has completed similar medical missions in the Dominican Republic and Malawi, Africa, remains focused on improving long-term healthcare in Haiti.
“In two to three years, I want to have a clinic in place in northwest Haiti,” says Dr. Philippe. “I want to build a hospital in 10 years that is run by Haitians to empower them. We will need doctors to staff positions with proper training. Outside organizations bring their fancy equipment, provide aid, and then take it home. We will use what’s available in our country.”
Meanwhile, Sante Haiti continues to seek medical volunteers to provide services and train Haitians on family care services as well as much-needed funding to improve and save lives. For more information or to donate, visit SanteHaiti.org.