Handicap International, along with partners at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), celebrated the graduation of 72 Haitians from its rehabilitation technician training course in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 27.
The diploma program was a first for the country, filling a critical gap that existed before the 2010 earthquake, when the country counted a scant 13 physical therapists, most of whom lived abroad. The program aims to strengthen local rehabilitation skills. It is a major achievement, and opens up new possibilities for the future.
The earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, took the lives of more than 200,000 people, and injured 300,000 other people. Among the injured, Handicap International estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 Haitians needed an orthopedic or prosthesis fitting.
The new influx of injured people created a huge need in a country devoid of rehabilitation professionals, and put a damper on an overall bleak picture: 15% of the Haitian population is living with a disability, roughly 1.5 million people. With so few rehabilitation technicians, Handicap International launched its first course to train rehabilitation technicians in 2012.
The diploma course included two programs: an 18-month program for rehabilitation technicians, and a two-year program for orthopedic technicians. Albert D'Haem Philip Burger, Handicap International’s country director for Haiti, explains that “some students learned how to design and repair prostheses, while others learned to support a physical therapist. Each student had practical work experience in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, supported by an advisor, to expose them to the realities of the profession and help them learn to deal with them."
More than 200 people attended the ceremony for graduates, who range in age from 19 to 40. Among guests were representatives of the Haiti Ministry for Public Health and Population, USAID, Agence Française de Développement, family members, and journalists. “For many of them, this was the first time an event had been organized in their honor,” says Burger D’Haem.
“This training course is a springboard to the profession. Of the 22 orthoprosthetic technicians who have recently been awarded their diploma, ten already found work. Two technicians have been employed at a MSF France hospital in Cité Soleil. During the event, they took their professional oath by singing a gospel song. You could see the pride on their faces, and those of their parents. It was really moving.”
There is still work to be done. “Although the course is over, we’re still moving towards our goal,” Burger D’Haem adds. “We want to strengthen skills in the rehabilitation sector in Haiti, over the long-term, in conjunction with the government.” To achieve this, Handicap International has been providing support to six hospitals and three rehabilitation centers since January 2014. Since August 2015, the organization has also been strengthening the skills of untrained rehabilitation technicians already working in the profession.
Discussion forums and e-learning courses have been set up to standardize professional skills in the field. Finally, Handicap International is working closely with the Ministry for Health and Population to ensure the profession benefits from more recognition, and to prove the importance of the training courses. “It’s a good start. But we’re only halfway there.”