IMP Celebrates 10 Years Partnering with Project Medishare and the Life of Marie Chery, Country Director

GW-Project Medishare partnership

GW-Project Medishare partnership

May 5, 2015

For more than a decade, the Office of International Medicine Programs (IMP) has partnered with Project Medishare to help provide quality health care for the people in the Central Plateau of Haiti. This past year not only marked the 10th anniversary of the long-standing partnership, but in July will also mark IMP’s 17th medical mission to Haiti, a country with substandard health conditions and a shortage of medical facilities. Throughout IMP and Project Medishare’s partnership, GW faculty, residents, and students have tapped into their expertise, passion, commitment, and enthusiasm to offer medical care and health education to those in need. In the process, they have expanded their knowledge and understanding of another culture and its medical issues.

On average twice each year, faculty from the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), the GW School of Nursing (SON), and Children’s National Health System, along with medical, nursing, public health, and physician assistant students, travel to the Central Plateau to provide health education, nutrition assessments, maternal and child health and reproductive health services, information to increase child survival, water and sanitation assistance, and HIV/AIDS and TB information. The multidisciplinary teams perform examinations and administer much-needed medications. Since 2004, nearly 300 faculty, staff, students, and residents have served more than 16,000 patients during week-long missions that focus on treating children with malnutrition and adults with diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension, among others.

Jack Summer, M.D., FACP, RESD ’81, associate clinical professor of medicine at SMHS, has traditionally led the trips, which are now co-supervised by infectious disease specialist Marc Siegel, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at SMHS. “It has been wonderful working with Project Medishare, watching the organization grow and expand their influence, especially during a very turbulent time in Haiti,” Summer said. “They have risen to the challenges brought on by the earthquake in 2010, and I see their community rural health program as a role model for sustainability.”

For students, the opportunity to travel to Haiti is invaluable. They gain experience diagnosing and treating diseases of poverty, and they are exposed to the medical conditions of an unfamiliar cultural setting with far fewer resources than the United States. “It’s important for students to see that what we in Washington, D.C. think is important and correct for our patients might not be optimal or sustainable in a developing country,” Summer says. “It changes the way they see the world. It’s rewarding when a returned student tells me what an eye-opener the trip has been for them, but even more so when they say ‘I’d like to continue doing this kind of work overseas or at a community health clinic in D.C.’”

Yushekia Woodford, MSII, who participated in the July 2013 mission, was struck by the importance of working with underserved populations. “Understanding the limited resources of my patients allows me to relate to them in a way that would be impossible otherwise,” she said. “The skill set I learned is universal.” For Amanda Eisenberg, M.D. ’13, witnessing firsthand the poverty that Haitians endure daily – and coping with the country’s heat and humidity – made an indelible impression. “I was given the opportunity to treat and see many different medical conditions, such as a bowlegged 3-year-old boy with rickets and a 40-year-old woman with a massive goiter,” says Eisenberg. Robert Dufour, M.D. ’14, said the mission to Haiti was so valuable that he returned for a second trip. “I firmly believe [the trips] were the most formative experiences I had during my medical education,” he said. “I know that our team did meaningful work while there, but I believe, most importantly, that our time in Haiti proved to be a catalyst for developing or strengthening a passion for global health service.”

Most recently, SON, after successfully sending nursing students on multidisciplinary missions since 2011, decided to plan all nursing missions to Haiti with IMP’s assistance. In January 2014, eight students and four faculty members embarked on the first SON mission trip.

“I knew it was important that nurses become involved in the IMP/Project Medishare trips as nurses are the most valuable assets of all health care systems and play a vital role in improving health access and services to the most vulnerable populations in Haiti and throughout the world,” said Carol Lang, DHSc.N, MScN, BScN, associate director, International Nursing Programs, assistant professor, and mission participant. “I strongly believe that by working together, the SON, SMHS, Project Medishare, local health agencies, and our partners in Haiti are perfectly positioned to help solve the immediate, prevailing, and emerging health problems in Haiti.”

The partnership between Project Medishare and GW, among others, began following the catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which struck on Jan. 12, 2010. Organizations around the world responded, providing humanitarian aid, pledging funds, and dispatching rescue and medical teams. Project Medishare, working with the University of Miami, immediately opened a field hospital where medical workers treated more than 30,000 patients over a five month period. In May 2010, equipment and personnel moved to Port-au-Prince’s Hospital Bernard Mevs. The facility has since treated more than 300,000 people and become the premier critical care, trauma and rehabilitation hospital in Haiti. GW also sent a team of six faculty and staff to assist Project Medishare in its efforts to treat earthquake victims, assess the needs and key issues of the earthquake response, and identify ways to help the people of Haiti and Project Medishare.

Project Medishare is a non-profit organization founded in 1994 by Barth Green, M.D., and Dr. Arthur Fournier, M.D. The first team of faculty from the University of Miami Schools of Medicine and Nursing were charged with assessing the healthcare situation in Haiti in order to explore ways in which they could improve health conditions for the country’s largely impoverished population. Since the first trip, Medishare has developed partnerships with organizations, physicians, and allied health professionals. Project Medishare is dedicated to sharing its human and technical resources with its Haitian partners in the quest to achieve quality health care and development services for all.


Celebrating the Life of Marie Chery, Country Director

In March of 2014, Project Medishare suffered the loss of Marie Chery, B.S.N., RN, dedicated country director and nurse educator.

Chery received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from City College of New York in 1977 and later moved to Miami in 1988 to work for the University of Miami. In 2000, she visited Haiti with a medical group from Project Medishare; from that point forward, she was determined to return.

“Marie’s destiny was tied to her country of birth and, most of all, to her mother, who was the respected director of nursing at the State University Nursing School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,” Project Medishare wrote.

Chery was recruited to the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies with an assignment to strengthen Haiti’s nursing infrastructure through education and training programs.  Through a dual leadership role with the University of Miami Global Institute for Community Health and Development, Chery proved to be an invaluable asset as she rose through the ranks of Project Medishare and the nursing school, and her ascent culminated in the position of country director for all of Project Medishare and the nursing school’s programs in Haiti. Chery’s love and passion for Haiti was focused on its most under-served citizens in the isolated Central Plateau. 

Chery’s leadership took a small program serving a few hundred people in the town of Thomonde to a comprehensive community health and development initiative that now provides healthcare to more than 100,000 people. Her many accomplishments include the construction and operation of the first maternal health center in the Central Plateau; the construction of a new government community health clinic; the implementation of mobile health posts in isolated rural areas; the education and training of both Haitian and international medical professionals; the creation of an emergency cholera treatment center; the construction of the Kay Pasha, an education and training center; and the creation of a chlorine factory to combat the deadly cholera epidemic. The programs that were nearest to Chery’s heart were those launched for the protection of orphans and vulnerable children, such as the provision of school health to more than 20,000 school children every year. In 2008, IMP nominated Marie for the RFK Human Rights Award, which honors courageous individuals striving for social justice.

Huda Ayas, Ed.D. ’06, M.B.A. ’98, M.H.S.A. ’93, associate dean for international medicine, who had the pleasure of working with Chery, recalled, “In the midst of despair, while I was with Marie after the earthquake, she was a golden bridge that connected the international medical efforts to the people of Haiti. Her dedication, selflessness, and never-ending hard work built the foundation that today's medical clinics and education are currently standing on and will be from now on. She forever will be remembered as the person who never backed down or gave an inch when ‘doing the right thing’ was at stake. Marie’s smiles and laughter can still be seen and heard as each patient and GW student visit Haiti’s clinics.”