In this pandemic, it is sometimes difficult to be aware of what is happening in the rest of the world. Haiti has had 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus thus far and estimates are that it could spread quickly in a country that already has a fragile healthcare system. Projections of the devastation that is possible in this impoverished country due to widespread dissemination of Covid far exceed the death toll of the 2010 earthquake. Haiti experienced a similar pandemic when cholera broke out 10 months following the earthquake and killed an estimated 10,000 people. Coronavirus could be even more significant as the remainder of the world is fighting the same virus within their own borders and not able to send medical ai/financial aide to Haiti.
Haiti lacks not only ventilators to treat its’ citizens once they have been infected but also has a limited supply of masks and other protective equipment for health care workers. While fabric masks are inferior to manufactured masks, they are better than no mask. When the first few Covid cases were reported, we started to receive requests at our sewing center for fabric masks. The Helping Haiti Work seamstresses that normally sew reusable menstrual pads were contacted and eager to learn a new skill. Due to the ingenuity of Ellen Schreder, co-leader of our Days for Girls Enterprise, she was able to gather our seamstresses together and via video connection, instruct them in the construction of fabric face masks using an interpreter and a live demonstration of mask construction on her sewing machine. Within days the seamstresses had sewn 250 masks and the masks were purchased by 2 local birthing centers and a hospital. We currently have orders for 250 additional masks. As part of the distribution of these masks, institutions are also providing education on handwashing and social distancing.
Fabric masks should only be a temporary solution until better protection is available for the healthcare workers of Haiti. We are hopeful that as the supply chain of commercially made masks increases, these same fabric masks can be used in the general population.