Canadian Red Cross field hospital provides vital service in Gonaives, Haiti

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In an abandoned coffee plantation some 30 tents make up the Canadian Red Cross field hospital that is managed jointly with the Norwegian Red Cross. The field hospital opened in October after Tropical Storm Jeanne destroyed the Providence Hospital, leaving the 200,000 residents of Gonaives without access to a referral hospital.

Since opening, the Red Cross hospital has provided more than 5,200 people with medical care. It functions fully—with an emergency outpatient department, 100 bed in-patient facilities, general medicine unit, maternity ward, paediatric unit, operating room with two surgery tables, x-ray lab and pharmacy.

The maternity ward is a very busy place—with approximated 50 babies delivered each week. Outside the ward, a young mother cradles her tiny infant daughter Caroline who was born at the hospital. She leaves the hospital within hours of giving birth.

Hélène Baribeau, a Canadian Red Cross nurse from Ste-Julienne, Quebec has worked at the hospital for six weeks. She works alongside the Haitian nurses and midwives, providing guidance and sharing her expertise.

“Most of the Haitian staff members in Gonaives were directly affected by Tropical Storm Jeanne—some lost family members and many lost their homes,” said Ms. Baribeau. “In spite of this hardship, their spirit is not broken. It can be difficult working in tents, with the heat and dust—yet they still remain dedicated and focused on providing the best possible care to their patients. The Haitian nurses have a very developed ability to diagnose their patients’ conditions without using specialized equipment.”

When she returns to Canada on December 15, Ms. Baribeau will bring fond memories of her time in Gonaives. “What has struck me the most was the courage of the Haitian people and their ability to live one day at a time.”

Since 1998, the Norwegian Red Cross has deployed several Emergency Response Unit (ERU) hospitals to disaster locations worldwide. This is the first time the Norwegian Red Cross and Canadian Red Cross have worked jointly on a field hospital project. “The partnership has functioned well,” said Hanna Mollan, ERU Administrator, Norwegian Red Cross.

“The staff from both National Red Cross Societies worked cooperatively together and their skills that complemented each other, added Ms. Mollan. We brought our extensive experience with ERU hospitals and the French speaking Canadian medical staff could facilitate communication and build good relations with the Haitian staff.”

Dr. Pierre Duplessis, Secretary General of the Canadian Red Cross, visited the hospital in December. “This project illustrates Red Cross at its best,” said Dr. Duplessis. “It’s impressive to see members of the Red Cross family from around the world—including Canada, Norway, Spain, France and Haiti—working together.”

 “The hospital in Gonaives truly makes a difference in the lives of the local population— often a difference between life and death,” added Dr. Duplessis. Before the field hospital opened, patients requiring emergency surgery needed to travel several hours to hospitals in other cities.

The rehabilitation of the Providence Hospital will be complete in the New Year— work that includes repairing the water and electrical systems and disinfecting the buildings. At that time, all of the medical equipment from the field hospital will be transferred to the Providence Hospital.

Statistics – Red Cross Field Hospital – Gonaives

(from October 14 to December 11, 2004)

Consultations at the out-patient department






Surgeries performed