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Haiti: Unprecedented patient numbers at MSF hospital following healthcare funding cuts

Unprecedented numbers of pregnant women are seeking medical care at the Centre de Référence en Urgence Obstétricales (CRUO), a hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, run by Doctors Without Borders/Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF) focusing on complicated obstetrics — the result of funding cuts by international donors and limited Haitian government spending on healthcare.

Following these cuts, in 2014 MSF CRUO’s neonatal unit admitted over 32 per cent more newborns, and referrals of pregnant women increased 18 per cent. Admission numbers are the same in 2015.

The Canadian government ended its “Manman Ak Timoun an Sante” (MATS) program in 2013, which targeted specifically mother and child health. This is part of an overall cut in international funding for healthcare in Haiti, which had served to fill many gaps in maternal and other healthcare provision. Meanwhile, Haiti plans to spend only 5.4 per cent of its own budget on healthcare in 2015-16. In contrast, Haiti’s neighbour the Dominican Republic will dedicate 11.5 per cent of its budget to healthcare.

Cuts in funding 'putting lives at risk'

"Spending on maternal healthcare has shown clear results in Haiti, and now we see cuts in that funding putting women’s lives at risk,” said Paul Brockmann, MSF's country director in Haiti. “During Haiti’s annual birth peak, which runs August to January each year, things have been even worse. This is an entirely predictable increase in demand for maternal healthcare, and due to these cuts the system was utterly unprepared. These cuts need to be reversed.”

This increase in demand has forced MSF’s CRUO hospital, run independently of any international government funding and therefore unaffected by spending cuts, to prioritize only those at greatest risk from birth complications. But women who do not meet these admission criteria now have few other options until their situation deteriorates enough to meet them. 

Serene Princeton, one such young mother, did not initially meet MSF’s tightened admission criteria and was turned away.  She went to the general hospital but it was on strike, and other hospitals were only accepting pregnant women at full term, which she was not. After she started bleeding and fearing she would die with her baby, she returned to CRUO for a second time. By then her situation met MSF’s criteria and she was admitted.

MSF opened its CRUO hospital in March 2011. Over 27,000 babies have been born there, and almost 9,000 babies have been admitted into its neonatology department. MSF has worked in Haiti since 1991, and currently also runs a specialist burns unit in Drouillard Hopsital, a hospital in Martissant, a surgical project in Tabarre and an emergency cholera response team deployable across the country.  

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