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As COVID cases surge, Haiti’s Dr. Pape is on the frontline again

Dr. Jean William Pape has been on the frontline of Haiti’s ever-changing public health needs, from the early days of the AIDS epidemic to the devastating 2010 earthquake. Now, as the country’s fragile healthcare system confronts a massive uptick in coronavirus cases, Dr. Pape is using that past experience to fight yet another health crisis. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Last year NewsHour Weekend profiled the unique resilience and persistence of Dr. Jean William Pape in Haiti. The doctor has been on the frontlines of Haiti's ever-changing public health needs and climate disasters, from the early days of the AIDS epidemic to the devastating earthquake in 2010. Now, as Haiti confronts a massive uptick in coronavirus cases, Dr. Pape is using that past experience to fight what is quickly becoming another health crisis in this fragile nation. NewsHour Weekend Correspondent, Ivette Feliciano, has more.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Based on the last time we spoke with you last year in Haiti and learned a little bit about your history there, you've been on the front lines of the height of the AIDS epidemic and the earthquake aftermath and subsequent cholera outbreak. You know, how reminiscent is this moment and how much are you employing that knowledge right now?

  • Dr. Jean Pape:

    This type of knowledge is cumulative and it gives you huge experience, for instance. You know, it's been very difficult to convince many people, many Haitians, that COVID is real.

    So essentially, what we had to do is go in any community. And then we asked them to give us people that we could train as community health agents. We train them to sensitize their people, their population, where they live, about the disease, and to bring us anybody they feel have signs or symptoms associated with it COVID.

    You win that community immediately because poor people are not stupid. Poor people want to make sure that what you're telling them is real and what we're telling them is good for them.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    But over the past few weeks Haiti has seen a rise of more than 600 percent of COVID-19 cases.

  • Dr. Jean Pape:

    We have a lot of Haitian leaving the Dominican Republic to return home, about 30,000 of them. And as you may know, the Dominican Republic has the worst epidemic in the entire region, they have passed the bar of 20,000 cases, so it's a huge epidemic.

    So we believe that those Haitians coming back, they are one now accounting for the disease spreading at the rate of 200 new cases everyday. We have essentially, have 24 more times the infection rate that we had three weeks ago.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In addition to community outreach strategies educating Haitians about COVID-19, Dr. Pape says large scale treatment centers are being set up around the country.

  • Dr. Jean Pape:

    We strongly believe that if we have enough patients who come in on time, they don't wait too long. We can save all of them. The tragedy has been young men in their 30s and some even younger, waited too long. And at that time, there's not much we could do for them.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    But with about 21,000 tests for a population of 11 million, some doctors worry that Haiti is not testing enough people.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    With only a limited number of tests, you know, how accurate are the official numbers of COVID-19 cases in Haiti?

  •  Dr. Jean Pape:

    What we've been doing is what is recommended by the WHO is essentially to test people with signs and symptoms. Nobody tests an entire population. So if somebody has signs and symptoms of COVID it is going to be tested.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So far the Haitian government has tested less than 11,000 suspected cases

    Dr. Pape says officials also haven't strictly enforced the national lockdown because for many Haitians, a day spent at home is a day without food.

  •  Dr. Jean Pape:

    The government has made some efforts to provide subsidies to families, but it's not sufficient. So, I am most afraid of the after COVID than the COVID itself because even if all the lockdown has not been implemented in Haiti, businesses have decreased a lot.

    Remittances from the diaspora have decreased by 30 percent. And the factories that are exporting to the U.S. have slowed down tremendously. We worry also because this year we've had a drought. So it's going to affect our crop at the end of this year, creating more hunger. And at all times, we're 40 percent of people who don't eat properly. So imagine that this is going to get worse.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In addition to the economic toll of the health crisis, Dr. Pape is also concerned about hurricane season which began just this month. He worries a big storm could make the COVID-19 outbreak even worse.

  •  Dr. Jean Pape:

    When it rains badly, people die. Houses are destroyed. if you're putting people in some temporary shelter, you cannot have them too close one to another because you create an expansion of the COVID epidemic.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    I want to ask, how are you feeling personally in this moment?

  • Dr. Jean Pape:

    Well, I think it's the toughest crisis I've been through. Essentially because it's coming at the worst time for us. At the time when we have five other major problems that would need a chapter on their own. So it's a combination of problems that make it a perfect, perfect storm.

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