Nurses—Making a Difference in Global Health

Goal 5:  Improve maternal health

Madam Gourdet wouldn't take no for an answer

She is the chief nurse overseeing women who give birth in Port-au-Prince’s largest hospital. The conditions for pregnant women and newborns at General Hospital had so upset Marlene Gourdet (everyone calls her Madame) that she was determined to reopen the maternity ward today.

Some co-workers and others have been reluctant to enter the building in spite of five safety inspections by the U.S. military that found the building to be structurally sound for use. A tremor after the initial earthquake sent people running from the hospital and some who saw them flee have remained fearful despite the inspections.

Patients are being treated in tents on the hospital grounds. But Madame Gourdet believes that women in labor, new mothers and their babies aren’t receiving the care they deserve because medical facilities are overwhelmed by patients with trauma injuries.

When Madame Gourdet meets Jhpiego’s Willy Shasha, an ob/gyn, outside the hospital gates, the feisty nurse realizes she has an ally. He is working with his Haitian colleagues in the Jhpiego office in Port-au-Prince to reestablish maternal and newborn health services at the hospital, the main referral facility in the capital, and ensure pregnant women, mothers and newborns are properly cared for as Haiti copes with thousands of injured quake victims.

Madame Gourdet marches Dr. Lucito Jeannis, Jhpiego’s Haiti Country Director, and Dr. Shasha, who came to work with Jhpiego’s Haiti staff on a recovery plan, into the surgical tent where staff are performing emergency Cesarean sections and other major operations. “Can people work in these conditions? Dirt under their feet and in a tent?” she asks. “There is a building next door.”

Today, Madame Gourdet, other hospital staff and Jhpiego’s team – Doctors Jeannis and Shasha, Nurse Marie Jacqueline Jean, Baltimoreans Rich Lamporte and Anne Pfitzer –- return to the building for the first time to start cleaning, organizing and preparing for a resumption of maternal services.

“Most important, we will now have three operating rooms with minimum standards to prevent infection, which is difficult to control in tents. We also have a sense of renewal, a sense of pride to get back to essential services,” says Dr. Thierry LaPlanche, a Haitian medical resident who has been tending to patients in the tents until now.

“A lot of people across the hospital are watching us, watching the leadership of the maternity to recover services for the long term.”

“I just want things to return to normal”, adds maternity nurse Francois Francoinise.

For Madame Gourdet, re-opening the maternity ward in the hospital means delivering care safely, in a sanitary environment and with dignity. She understands why the tents were necessary — tremors have rattled the capital since the first quake hit two weeks ago. But she also knows that it is urgent to re-establish the quality and level of health care with improved facilities and enhanced infection prevention.

Jhpiego’s team knows this too –– the organization has worked in Haiti for 15 years to help Haitian health care professionals strengthen emergency obstetric care, infection prevention, family planning and HIV/AIDS programs. But the Jhpiego team recognizes that the pace of recovery will depend on the commitment of Haitians like Madame Gourdet to move the effort forward. Gourdet participated in a 2005 Jhpiego training on prevention of HIV/AIDS transmissions from mother to child.

“She is strong and gets the maternity staff to work,” says Jean, a reproductive health advisor in the Jhpiego Haiti office. “Sometimes they complain, but know they can count on her. She has a kind heart. If she was not strong, she would not remain head of the ward.”

As 30 to 45 cartons of supplies arrive from UNFPA to restock General Hospital’s maternity ward, Madame Gourdet wastes little time rallying a group of Haitians to begin moving the boxes into the facility. Jhpiego was instrumental in getting the supplies delivered.

“She is a passionate advocate for women too easily forgotten in the stress of these times,’’ says Shasha.

Madame Gourdet and her Jhpiego allies want to make certain that this huge relief effort creates even better services for mothers and babies.

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Jhpiego - original blog post at , used with permission.