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Haiti's Invisible Ones

At the clinic in Les Cayes, the first few patients are quietly waiting before eight o'clock this morning; a 14-year-old boy with one leg, an impeccably-dressed older woman rubbing her shoulder, several men and women in wheelchairs - each missing at least one limb.
HaitiRehab6.jpgThe room is soon crowded with those who are invisible outside it - Haiti's disabled.  Buildings, including schools and hospitals, are not designed for them; services are not offered; many complain that they are shunned by their families and neighbours, who consider any physical disability to be something of an embarrassment.

Very little damage from the earthquake happened in Les Cayes, a  4-hour drive from Port au Prince. But like most rural areas of Haiti, this one was flooded by those looking to escape the disaster in the capital.  Some came here precisely because they figured medical care would be easier to get in the countryside.  But to take care of them, and many, many more here who became disabled as a result of the earthquake, there are only 12 Haitian physiotherapists.HaitiRehab8.jpg

No wonder, then, that they come, at great effort, to see the foreign physiotherapists who started working in this small clinic today.  There are three Canadians and an American here, part of an 11-week program largely funded by the foundations of two Toronto hospitals: St. John's Rehab Hospital and Providence Health Care.  They have contributed $40,000 to the disaster to provide much-needed follow-up care to those whose injuries were treated, and in some cases, whose lives were saved, by emergency aid workers in the days after the quake.

Few thought about the follow-up back in January.  Yet without it, many of the lives initially saved could be at risk from problems such as infections. Some medical aid workers, such as Toronto physiotherapist Mike Landry, are asking whether it is morally right to save the lives if they cannot possibly survive a hostile environment such as Haiti's afterward.

Thumbnail image for HaitiRehab5.jpgThe three physiotherapists spend the day examining amputations, assessing how well they have healed - or not, measuring them for prosthetic limbs that will be built and fitted right here, and helping the young and the old get used to crutches and wheelchairs.

Long after the initial disaster, and far from the spotlight of the media and the preoccupation of most international donors in Port au Prince, the effort to save, and improve, the lives of Haitians continues in Los Cayes, working with Haiti's invisible ones.

Saša's previous blog entry Haiti: "Has anything changed there?" from September 20.

Follow Saša's return to Haiti on Twitter.

See more of our coverage of Haiti's earthquake by Saša Petricic and others in our Archive, and most recently in our In Depth feature Hope and Heartbreak in Haiti.

Please note: A previous version of this blog entry was posted on September 21, 2010.