Case study

Saving lives, restoring hope in Haiti

Supporting the work of medical aid charity Merlin

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Emmanuel Etienne, 21, lost his right leg in the earthquake, but now, six months on, he’s walking and smiling again - thanks to support from the UK.

“I’d just got into high school and I have 2 more years to go before I can go onto university,” he said, adding that he’d like to attend the l’Universite d’Etat d’Haiti and study medicine. In April, just a couple of months ago, he was worrying that the earthquake tragedy has stolen these hopes.

“I want to go on with my schooling, but I’ll need help.”

British medical aid agency Merlin treated Emmanuel in the aftermath of the earthquake, when he required emergency surgery. He was one of hundreds of people who were helped by Merlin in the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake.

“I saw him every day at first,” says Merlin anaesthetist Jane Boden, explaining that his dressings were changed daily to prevent any infection from taking hold. “It was hurting him to change the dressing,” she adds.

So Merlin’s doctors opted to put him under general anaesthesia. Once the medical team ensured that the skin graft area was clear of infection, they added another skin graft layer on top, to seal it completely.

Merlin’s field hospital and emergency surgical team in Haiti was supported by a £400,000 UKaid grant from the Department for International Development. This enabled Merlin’s initial surgical team from the UK to be up and running within 48 hours of the earthquake.

Working in incredibly challenging conditions, the Merlin team carried out over 350 life saving surgical operations - combining orthopedic and plastic surgery to save survivors’ limbs - and treated a further 4,250 people for potentially fatal diseases including acute diarrhea, malaria and respiratory infections.

Merlin is also now running mobile clinics to provide health care support and training local health workers in devastated parts of the capital and remote villages in Petit Goave. Merlin is partnering with other NGOs to ensure that the people they have treated receive the ongoing follow-up treatment and physical rehabilitation that they needed.

Since April, Emmanuel was discharged from Merlin’s field hospital into the care of Heartline, a US charity that run a hospital in Port au Prince. He was then referred to Handicap International, another charity supported by UKaid, and fitted with a prosthetic leg by them. All the time, he’s been receiving intense rehabilitative support to help him learn to walk again.

When Merlin’s Haiti project coordinator, Emily Bell, visited him at the Handicap International clinic recently, she found him walking and smiling again.

“It’s great to see Emmanuel walking around and full of hope again. He’s had some hard times over the last few months, so it’s fantastic to see such a transformation. It’s great that we’ve been able to help him and so many others.”

Soon Emmanuel will be returning home to Mirogane, a small town about 3 hours from Port au Prince, where his family will be able to look after him. He hopes to be able to get back to college again soon as well.

There are huge challenges still ahead for many people like Emmanuel in Haiti. But thanks to the work of Merlin, Handicap International and others, many of them have been given another chance to overcome these challenges and rebuild their lives.

Published 12 July 2010