Katherine LaMonaca - Haiti

Katherine LaMonaca

Internship location: Rural Haiti
Career goal: I hope to work with community health-focused, non-governmental organizations to develop and implement effective, evidence-based programs designed to address health inequalities among marginalized and neglected populations both in the United States and around the world

Internship summary:
I received a Downs International Travel Fellowship to conduct a research study in three rural Haitian prisons. Severe overcrowding, lack of basic hygiene, inadequate nutrition and limited or nonexistent medical services are pervasive conditions throughout Haiti’s prison system. Inspired by these dire circumstances, the purpose of the study was to assess the overall health status of prisoners and begin to examine the health effects of incarceration through review of medical records and medical surveillance surveys. Throughout my work, I collaborated with staff of the Health and Human Rights Prison Project, a medical-legal partnership that was established by several non-governmental organizations to provide collaborative medical and legal services for prisoners and pre-trial detainees in three rural prisons in central Haiti.

Value of experience:
This experience was my first opportunity to live and work in a developing nation. It was truly profound and humbling to witness simultaneously the intense suffering and enduring hope of Haiti’s prisoners. On the practical side, this project allowed me to employ epidemiology and data management skills to design and carry out a research project for the immediate purposes of improving and systematizing medical care within the target prisons. I was also excited to have the chance to begin learning Haitian Kreyol by living with several Haitian families over the summer.

Best moment:
One prisoner had an external fixator, a large metal attachment, which was left screwed in his leg due to a bad break he sustained several months earlier. It was overdue to be removed, but the original surgeon was no longer available. Together with the local HHRPP lawyer, my site preceptor, and a Haitian orthopedic surgeon from a neighboring town, we arranged for him to leave the prison to have surgery for its removal.