by Cecilia Needham
In Haiti, one CT scanner serves 11.45 million people. It is privately-owned and located in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, rendering diagnostics services financially and geographically inaccessible for most Haitians.
“Every day a lot of people die because they can’t [get] an exam,” said Jimmy Forest. Forest is the electrical foreman at Build Health International (BHI), a design-and-build nonprofit that has completed over 200 projects in over 50 countries to deliver high-quality and dignified healthcare infrastructure. The organization started in Haiti with the construction of Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM) and remains committed to serving the doctors and patients there.
People travel from across Haiti to receive treatment at the world-renowned 300-bed teaching hospital. Since opening in 2014, HUM has served over 500,000 unique patients. To further enable comprehensive care, BHI designed and constructed dozens of campus additions, including an emergency department, mother’s home, oncology center, rehabilitation center, solar grid updates, and most recently, a new diagnostics center.
Forest has overseen electrical maintenance and construction at HUM since the beginning, recounting that his “favorite thing about working with BHI is every project, you have something new to learn.” For the diagnostics center, the lesson plan includes how to install and maintain vital diagnostic equipment: two CT scanners, one X-ray, and support spaces in a 6,000 square meter, two-story facility.
Haiti has one of the highest rates of breast cancer and cervical cancer in the Western Hemisphere. Historically, a lack of resources has prevented early diagnosis and deterred patients from receiving timely care. Prevention is vital to promoting good health, and an important step in the mission for healthcare equity in Haiti. Preferred by patients and healthcare professionals alike, preventive care is more effective in fighting disease. To close the healthcare gap, the diagnostics center will save many lives and prioritize preventive and primary care.
Forest and the rest of the BHI team overcame many barriers so the diagnostics center can open this July. The design switched to two stories; construction has occurred adjacent to the emergency department and maternity ward, which cannot be shut down; the project required the biggest concrete pour in a single day (over 100 cubic meters); and perhaps most impressive of all, construction has continued forward despite ongoing in-country security challenges, shipping port shutdowns, and road closures.
Despite these barriers, success has been possible through the incredible initiative and collaboration of BHI team members from Haiti, Massachusetts, and across the globe. Haitian construction team members such as Forest have assumed significantly more responsibility and work in order to realize this project.
While still head electrician, Forest now supports every step, including logistics and management. “We put all heads together to move forward with different challenges in Haiti. We’re still going on, we’re still moving forward, so that’s my proudest,” he said.
With dedicated staff like Forest, BHI is uniquely equipped and committed to continuing to build healthcare equity in Haiti and across the world, despite the most difficult challenges.
Cecilia Needham is external programs coordinator at Build Health International (BHI).