(Washington, D.C.) July 30, 2012 — A grant from the J. Homer Butler Foundation enables Jesuit Refugee Service and our partners to provide medical care for Haitian migrants and refugees in the Dominican Republic.
Haitian migrants have always had a presence in the Dominican Republic, but since 2010 many more of those making their way into the country are refugees from earthquake-affected areas. In their efforts to make a living for themselves and their families, Haitian migrants and refugees find employment in precarious conditions where they earn wages below the poverty level.
Because their employers do not provide medical insurance and the Dominican government does not provide any medical assistance, migrants and refugees must take care of their own medical needs.
The grant from the J. Homer Butler Foundation provided JRS in the Dominican Republic, via the Centro Bono offices, the means to establish a wider health care network for Haitians living in new settlement areas. We have been able to accomplish this by developing new partnerships and training local health promoters who are in turn able to increase access to care.
JRS has initiated agreements with health care centers in three geographical areas with high concentrations of vulnerable Haitian migrants and refugees. Agreements with facilities such as the Caritas Arquidiocesana Clinic, the Andres Boca Chica Hospital, and the Dominican Republic General Hospital in Los Alcarrizos ensure that people do not have to travel long distances in order to receive primary health care.
Thanks to the generosity of the J. Homer Butler Foundation, JRS in the Dominican Republic has trained 30 health promoters to accompany patients by attending appointments at our affiliate hospitals and clinics, and disseminating information about sanitation and preventative health measures during community workshops. Among those trained to take on this essential task, 18 were from the Haitian communities they serve and 12 were members of local social service organizations with which JRS works closely.
Ms. Ana Maria Belique, the Program Director, was responsible for conducting the trainings, which consisted of five initial workshops: Profile of a Health Promoter, Work Plans and Procedures, Prevention and Health Care, Psychology and Support, and Alternative Medicine.
The goal of the first two sessions was to develop shared concepts of relationships and values necessary for working in such a sensitive public capacity and to acclimatize health promoters to reporting procedures and expectations.
JRS in the Dominican Republic used partnerships with hospitals and medical centers to secure subsidized care for patients requiring hospitalization and surgery, and accompanied them throughout the process of evaluation, surgery and recovery. Health promoters played a vital role in managing these cases, especially for those seeking care in public hospitals. One of the women who turned to our JRS colleagues for help, Chantal, 32, spoke with us about her journey.
What happened to you?
I lived in Haiti and studied at the university, but starting in 2008 I began to suffer from stomach pains so strong that I sometimes lost consciousness. I lived with them for an entire year, and during this time a ball started growing in my stomach. The doctor sent me to do various examinations and they discovered a 4.2-inch myoma (fibroid), which was the same as having a four-month-old baby inside me.
The doctor told me that they had to operate right away, but between economic difficulties, the number of examinations I needed, and problems in the hospitals in Haiti I couldn't have the surgery.
Then a friend told me to come to the Dominican Republic, because according to her it would be easier to get an operation here than in Haiti. My family paid for my husband and me to go and we arrived here in the capital, Santo Domingo, and settled in a neighborhood called "The Mines."
But after three years of waiting I discovered that it wasn’t any easier to get surgery in the Dominican Republic, and during that time my illness kept getting worse.
I visited many hospitals here, but I couldn't get the surgery because it was too expensive. Fortunately, one day my neighbor asked me if I knew about Centro Bono; she gave me the address and my husband and I went. At Centro Bono I met with Ana Maria, who sent us to the Luperon Medical Center, where they ran a bunch of tests on me. I first went to Centro Bono in November 2011 and by January 2012 I had already received the operation.
What was life like before the surgery?
My husband was unemployed, we sometimes received help from his family, but my health got worse and nobody could cover the costs. There were always more tests to get and eventually it reached the point where we didn’t even have enough money to pay the rent.
My sister let us stay in her house, but we lived in very poor conditions. After that I stopped believing in life, I thought I was going to die. I would spend weeks and even months without leaving the house because I was so embarrassed about my illness. Everybody thought that I was pregnant.
How do you feel now, after the operation?
"It's a miracle," the doctor told me. She also said that I would recover very quickly. At the beginning, when she saw me for the first time, she didn’t know if the operation would be successful. I had a 1.1-pound myoma inside me, which she told me was the equivalent of being eight-months-pregnant. Thank God it wasn’t cancerous.
What support did you receive from Centro Bono during this process?
I didn't have enough money to even pay the bus fare to go to Centro Bono. I had to ask for help from my neighbors. But Centro Bono, even though there is a lot of demand on them, did everything possible to help me and get the necessary tests and medical examinations. This gave me hope; it gave me strength in my life. If it wasn't for them, I would not have been able to get the operation.
What are your plans now?
I want to help with everything, help people who are sick like I was. Every day I feel more strength to live.