Oct. 2, 2012 | Edgard Joachim is blazing a trail from Haiti to UAMS that will help other Haitians gain skills preparing them to build and expand clinical laboratory infrastructure in the Caribbean country still reeling from the 2010 earthquake.
Since August, Joachim has been at UAMS for a six-week visit to study in the cytotechnology program in the College of Health Professions. He will return to Haiti in mid-October to prepare for the January 2013 opening of the Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital where he will run the cytology lab.
“Having him here and able to contribute with the other cytotechnology students in the classroom has been an invaluable learning experience for both him and the other students,” said Don Simpson, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair of the college’s Department of Laboratory Sciences and director of the UAMS Office of Global Health. “UAMS has a unique skill set for assisting with global health issues – we understand the problems of health care access and underserved populations as we work to address those issues in our own state.”
While taking a break from studying after class recently, Joachim said he is looking forward to getting back home and seeing the hospital open. He said that the knowledge he has gained will help improve access to cervical cancer screenings via Pap smears that are read by cytotechnologists.
“It has been a good experience,” he said. “Being here has been good; being able to sit in class with hands-on exposure to the equipment and the chance to observe teaching techniques will help me in the future.”
This is Joachim’s second visit to UAMS, after coming in late 2011 with another Haitian lab scientist, Betty Alexandre. That visit, Simpson said, was focused on giving the two experience in laboratory operations, and supervisory and administrative skills.
Joachim said he hoped his visit could pave the way for other Haitian laboratory scientists to receive training at UAMS before returning home.
"I hope to make it possible for others to come to UAMS and study and then improve lives at home by helping people get cancer screenings," he said.
Haiti has a high incidence of cervical cancer for which the Pap smear lab test is the best screening option. Simpson and colleague Robert Lorsbach, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and director of hematopathology at UAMS, and Chief of Pediatric Pathology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, received a $29,000 College of American Pathologists Foundation grant in 2011 to support their efforts to train Haitian laboratory sciences such as Joachim. Lorsbach has a history of working to improve lab infrastructure in Haiti – even prior to the earthquake.
Lorsbach and Simpson will again travel to Haiti later this year to help Joachim prepare his lab for opening. "There are so many things to do," Joachim said.
Joachim also is looking forward to getting back to his wife and 3-year-old son. His family was in Haiti's capital, Port au Prince, when the earthquake struck in 2010. They were OK, but it took a while for him to be reunited with them because he had been out of town at the time.
The grant Lorsbach and Simpson received will help train more cytotechnologists to screen for cervical cancer after Joachim, and it will support the purchase of microscopes and colposcopes (a device that allows gynecologists to see the cervix when examining patients), and fund future personnel exchanges between UAMS and Haiti.
Joachim's visits to UAMS also were assisted through Partners in Health (PIH), an international health organization that works to improve the health of the poor and marginalized. The organization is helping build the new hospital.
Simpson said the UAMS Office of Global Health, established in 2012, is positioned to help facilitate such affiliations like teaming up with Partners in Health to improve health care and health access.
As for working with Joachim, Simpson said that contact will not end when he returns to Haiti. He envisions continued contact, allowing online consultation with UAMS colleagues if Joachim's lab has a need in the future.
Joachim’s UAMS classmates all said they enjoyed his time with them. Cytotechnology student Jazmin Culpepper said he’d taught her how to dance to Haitian Kompa music. He also has told them about his home country and its health care needs in the wake of the earthquake.