Fire damaged the only clinic able to treat coronavirus in a region of Haiti. Here's how a Germantown native is helping. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When Samuel Starke ran St. Joseph’s Clinic’s malnutrition department in Thomassique, Haiti, for a year, he saw that most people lived in wooden structures in a single space. 
A sheet separated the rooms, and the youngest children were often so malnourished their hair was cracked.
Families with multiple children could only afford to send one or two children to school.  Fifty to 100 children learned in a small, one-room area, said Starke, of Germantown.
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One place did not have a large enough structure for the whole school so one class was taught outside under a mango tree shade, said Starke, a 2012 graduate of Whitefish Bay’s Dominican High School and a medical student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“These people are proud, resilient, but incredibly kind and open,” he said.
That’s why, Starke said, he would do anything to help them.
When St. Joseph’s Clinic — the only place in that region to treat and test people for the coronavirus despite its very limited resources — had an electrical fire April 4, Starke launched a GoFundMe campaign with a $20,000 goal. The campaign has already raised more than $12,000, as of April 21.
According to Starke’s GoFundMe page, the fire caused about $200,000 in damages.
Starke worked at the clinic through a global health fellowship with Virginia-based Medical Missionaries.
The clinic is important to Starke because he completed a global health fellowship through Virginia-based Medical Missionaries.
“We started the GoFundMe because we believe the doctors, nurses and people of Thomassique — just like any of us — deserve a fighting chance against this pandemic,” Starke said. “People do not get to choose where they are born.”
With nearly 5,000 cases in neighboring Dominican Republic and 57 cases in Haiti — as of April 21 — St. Joseph’s Clinic’s Lawrence Mercier said a coronavirus outbreak is inevitable in Thomassique.
There are no cases in the region around Thomassique — an area about as big as Washington County — but Mercier said the region has a shortage of essential medication and personal protective equipment.
Starke said if or when the pandemic hits Thomassique, there could be “unimaginable” consequences because there are fewer resources to fight the pandemic than in the United States.
Mercier is working to prepare the clinic for a coronavirus outbreak. But he said the fire is a huge setback.
“That means we are unable to do any labs, tests, and we can’t use our oxygen machine in case we have a patient with a respiratory problem,” Mercier said. “We can’t receive any patient at nighttime because it is dark.
“We are connected to a public grid, but they don’t have a schedule to give the power. Sometimes it is one or two weeks without public power.”
Starke said one of the problems is that Thomassique has a lack of infrastructure:
In Thomassique, Starke said, people walk up to 6 miles to get health care.
“This puts things in perspective,” he said.
Despite some of the infrastructure drawbacks, Mercier said the clinic staff is working hard to fight against a coronavirus outbreak.
“We are doing what we can with what we have to prepare for the coronavirus,” he said. “We triage patients at the gate. Those we suspect to have coronavirus are seen in a special part of the clinic. We have a wing of the hospital designated for only those with coronavirus.”
Mercier said the money through the GoFundMe campaign will help with repairs from the fire. He also said they need money to buy medications, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other materials to protect staff against the virus. 
“Many people will be sick. However, we will do all that we can to help our patients with the little materials and funds that we have,” he added.
From Starke’s observations of his time in Haiti, he said the people will struggle with basic hygiene to prevent the spread of the coronavirus because of water sanitation issues.  
“Efforts to promote social distancing are extremely challenging in Haiti compared to the U.S. because many families are living on the brink of starvation and financial ruin,” said Starke.
He said to make money to feed their families, people in Haiti must go to crowded, busy markets to sell the crops they grow. That also means they can easily be exposed and spread the virus. 
There is no government stimulus to help them, said Starke.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought fear and heartbreak to people from all walks of life, but, unfortunately, places with the greatest need will always be hit the hardest,” Starke said. “We are fortunate to have been born in a country where nearly all of us are able to have our basic needs met.
“Unfortunately, for billions of people around the world, that is not the case.”
To support St. Joseph’s Clinic or for more information, visit bit.ly/haitifire.
Cathy Kozlowicz can be reached at 262-361-9132 or cathy.kozlowicz@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @KozlowiczCathy.


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