Friday, 25 February 2011

A Cuban Doctor in Kenscoff Heights

From Haiti

by Juan Diego Nusa PEÑALVER, special reporter, Granma, 24 February 2011.

Cuban doctor Dinora Lahera Portuondo will never forget Haiti. A few days short of completing a two-year medical mission in Haiti, this strong-charactered woman, who becomes shy in front of a tape recorder, recalls the overwhelming challenges she has faced like the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010; something she wouldn’t like to relive. The post-earthquakes emergencies and the cholera outbreak together with diseases she had only seen in medicine books have marked her daily life in the Caribbean island.

Her professional work has been focused on the health of low-income people in the Kenscoff community (52,000 inhabitants), twenty-five kilometers South East of Port-au-Prince. Kenscoff is located on a deforested mountain 1,400 meters above the sea level with a particular climate where very low temperatures prevailed.

When the Granma newspapers team arrived at her office, Lahera was treating Gillen Jean for vaginal infection. Afterwards, she saw children Paul Richarson, 14, and two-month-old Félix Frantz, for acute respiratory infection.

There are 30 or 40 patients in the waiting room as we speak. She explains that medical needs have been mounting in Haiti for years and it is too difficult to solve all of them in a few years.

She is assisted in her office by doctors Niels Alfredo Nastares, from Perú, and local Lourdes Philippeaux, both graduated from the Latin American Medicine School in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Dinora is in charge of the only welfare facility, a clinic, of Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health Care on that mountain. She can be seen everyday very early in the office or going up and down the hills visiting the humble houses where she relieves the suffering of Haitian families.

She says that Kenscoff has a strong middle class who can pay for treatment in private clinics, but there are many of its inhabitants who cannot afford their basic needs. Sometimes they cannot even pay the 25 gourdes (almost 50 cents of a U.S. dollar), fixed by the Public Health Care Ministry for the clinical record of the patient.

"I’ve experienced the material and existential shortages of the Haitian people," she says.

She recalls the harsh circumstances in which she had to provide assistance to the people displaced by the earthquake in the Bele I and II camps in Port-au-Prince; the long, post earthquake emergency shifts at the camp hospitals, and the medical assistance provided in Ka-Fu-Fey and Fond Verrettes. "Fond Verrettes is a rural zone close to the border with the Dominican Republic, in which I saw extreme poverty, as I’ve never seen before," she says.

She also commented the challenge of learning Creole from the Haitians that work in Dominican territory, and the cholera outbreak in the Archaie community in the West region of the country.

Comforted by her love for her thirteen-year-old son Carlos Alberto Quesada Lahera, now an eighth grader, and for her husband Eusebio Betancourt Pérez, a technician at the ETECSA telephone company in her hometown in Guantánamo; the doctor says that after her work in Haiti she will never be wrong when diagnosing cholera, malaria or typhus, diseases she had previously seen only in books.

She asks this reporter to mention how affectionate the Haitian people can be and her devotion to baseball. Although from Guantanamo, she ended the interview by expressing her support for the Santiago de Cuba baseball team to win the current series.