Dr. Levelt is the managing doctor at one of four Profamil clinics in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. In 2013, Profamil, an International Planned Parenthood Federation affiliate, provided nearly 265,000 services including gynecological exams, contraception distribution, prenatal services, post-abortion care, breast cancer screening, and STI testing and treatment. At the clinic where Dr. Levelt works, he and his staff of 11 see around 100 patients per day.
The most common visits are for gynecological services, pre-natal care and family planning services. “We offer all methods of family planning, from the simple to the complicated,” Dr. Levelt says. The most popular methods is the Depo Provera shot, because, as Dr. Levelt explains, “It’s simple, it’s clandestine. No one will know you are using it.”
This ability to maintain privacy is particularly important for women who don’t want to have more children, but whose partners don’t support contraceptive use, and for young people whose parents don’t approve of them using contraceptives, according to Dr. Levelt. “In Haiti, it is often taboo for parents to talk to their children about sex. So they end up influenced by friends at school, and don’t know about contraception …. It’s the reason why they’re scared. No information,” explains Dr. Levelt.
But Profamil is working to change these taboos by providing quality sexual and reproductive health information for adolescents. As Dr. Levelt explains, Profamil provides sexual and reproductive health lessons to patients in the waiting room while also training health agents to go out into the community and teach young people about their bodies, rights and how to protect themselves.
According to Dr. Levelt, access to reproductive information is critical not only to the health of young people in Haiti, but also to their ability to earn an education and climb out of poverty. “One family could have five or six children, the parents are not working, and they survive on a day-to-day basis …. Quite often the children are not in school. When family planning is introduced, they can control when and when not to have children, based on their economic status,” he explains.
“Since I was a little kid I always wanted to be a doctor,” Dr. Levelt says with a smile. But because the clinic is so short-staffed and over-crowded, he often spends his time completing administrative tasks, explaining, “We have a small staff so we are limited. I am doing administrative, manager, and consultation tasks…It’s really difficult to do all the tasks.”
Dr. Levelt admits that sometimes they are so crowded they are forced to turn people away: “Sometime it can be 5 o’clock and we cannot make the report of the day because there are so many people. They have to come the next morning but some of them don’t come. If we had a bigger staff, we could accept more people that are coming here. This is a problem we are confronting right now.” Dr. Levelt adds with a sigh that he often worries about the people who are turned away and are not able to come back, “Maybe I could have saved some lives.”
Special thanks to Carine Jocelyn, Executive Director, PROFAMIL Haiti for her assistance with this storytelling project.
““In Haiti, it is often taboo for parents to talk to their children about sex. So they end up influenced by friends at school, and don’t know about contraception ….”