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David Walton of Partners in Health visits Direct Relief


“Expect phone calls,” Dr. David Walton told a roomful of Direct Relief employees Monday afternoon during a presentation on his work building Haiti’s most advanced medical center through Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit which seeks to provide free healthcare for the poor through education, training and treatment.

The Harvard-educated medical doctor has worked with Partners in Health for 14 years and currently serves as Deputy Chief of Mission to Haiti. During a visit to the West Coast, he informed the group of the $16 million facility funded through donations and grants set to be completed at the end of July.

“This is the most ambitious project we have ever done in 25 years,” he said of the institution that will provide modern health services to underprivileged Haitians and serve as a hub to coordinate and run community health networks.

The 320-bed teaching hospital set on 14 acres of land in the town of Mirebalais, 40 miles northeast of capital Port-au-Price, will likely take Direct Relief’s work in Haiti in a new direction.

“They’re the best. We want to work with the best. We will reach out and try to find a way to support this hospital,” said Brett Williams, director of international programs at Direct Relief.

A partner with Direct Relief International prior to the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck the island nation Jan. 12, 2010, Mr. Williams said cooperation has only grown closer since the disaster that left many of Haiti’s hospitals in ruins.

“On a regular basis, we share inventory we have with their entire network,” he said. “I view the partnership getting stronger and stronger.”

Partners in Health founders set root in Haiti in 1985 when they established a small two-room clinic in Cange, according to their website. Two years later, the organization was officially founded and though they now work in 12 different countries, Haiti remains their largest and most developed program.

Dr. Walton said Partners in Health does not specialize in disaster relief, but was forced to start work in the unfamiliar setting after the earthquake due to their long history in the country. With the epidemic outbreak of cholera last fall, their work has taken on an even larger role.

“There is such an unmet need,” he said. “We get flooded with patients.”

Dr. Walton praised Direct Relief for its hurricane pre-positioning in Haiti as well as its post-earthquake and post-cholera response. “I have always found Direct Relief to be an unbelievable partner,” he said.

He said he views the hospital, which will eventually be turned over to the Haitian Ministry of Health, as a way for the group to continue giving access to health care and medical training to rural Haiti. Their work in the country relies on community health workers and has always been focused in clinics outside of Port-au-Prince.

Dr. Walton said their trained health workers provide directly observed therapy, meaning they disburse medications to recipients and make sure it is consumed. They hope to introduce maternal health care training to their community health workers in the future.

Dr. Walton doesn’t see the hospital center as detracting from their work with community health workers, “It will only enhance our community projects,” he said, adding that it has lecture hall facilities for education and can be a referral institution for cases community health workers are not trained to handle.

The group hopes that eventually the project will be completely run by Haitians, who will be selected and then paired with trained physicians to learn the technology that has never been present in the country.

He said the hospital will be solar powered and host the country’s only publicly accessible computed tomography (CT) scan. Other advances include an oxygen generator and waste water treatment plant.

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