‘It is simply best not to get pregnant’: women left terrified as Haiti’s maternity services collapse

Last Updated: June 21, 2024By

Haitian Midwives Face Nightmare Amid Rising Violence


Last week, the worst nightmares of the midwives at Heartline Haiti came true. As they geared up the maternity clinic for the evening, armed fellas laid siege to their neighborhood in eastern Port-au-Prince. They were on a wild rampage, shooting at cops and rival gangs, torching cars, and tearing through houses.

“Our crew huddled up in a hallway, ears ringing with the chaos outside. Every creak and bang made us flinch, fearing we might be next,” recounts Tara Livesay, the bigwig at the NGO. “Right outside, just two doors down, a gang member took a fatal hit.”

I ain’t about to send folks to work when they might catch a stray bullet, Tara Livesay, Heartline Haiti

After a nerve-racking night, they finally made it out safe the next morning when the street brawls simmered down. But the clinic had to shut down, leaving 75 expecting moms in the lurch without medical aid or a place to birth their babies.


“We’ve fought tooth and nail to keep the clinic running, but now we’re at a dead end. I can’t, in good conscience, send people to work when dodging bullets is on the menu,” laments Livesay.

Armed gangs have been running amok in the Caribbean nation since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. But the violence hit unprecedented levels last month. The UN’s Haiti human rights honcho, William O’Neill, called it “apocalyptic.”

In the past three weeks alone, over 53,000 folks got booted from their homes, and a staggering 1.64 million Haitians are teetering on the brink of starvation.

“Life’s already a rough ride in Haiti. Doing the basics, like grocery shopping, is a mission impossible. Now picture pushing out a baby in the midst of all this chaos,” says Philippe Serge Degernier, the UNFPA big shot in Haiti. “It’s a living nightmare.”


Last month, when Sanderline went into labor, she faced a tough choice: pop out her firstborn at home, sans midwife or pain meds, or gamble on navigating through gang warfare to reach a clinic.

“I knew the streets were a war zone,” says the 27-year-old, one of the last to deliver at Heartline Haiti. “All I could do was pray for safety.”

At another clinic in the city’s south, an anonymous midwife reveals that most of their patients are young gals impregnated after trading sex for food or falling victim to gang rape.

“Gangs have got a grip on over 70% of the city. When they move in, they claim the prettiest girls as their own. Escaping ain’t always an option,” they confide.


Degernier notes a 50% spike in reported cases of sexual violence since last year, though exact figures are hard to pin down.

Nearly all of the capital’s public hospitals have shuttered, and private clinics are vanishing fast. Out of 15 facilities backed by the UNFPA, only two are operational. The UN’s office in Haiti estimates that 3,000 pregnant women face being cut off from vital health services.

The few private hospitals still in business are cashing in on the system’s collapse, jacking up prices, reveals Fredelyne, a nurse with Heartline.

The UN reckons 3,000 pregnant women in Port-au-Prince are in danger of losing access to crucial health services. Photograph: Richard Pierrin/AFP/Getty Images

Partners in Health’s flagship hospital in the city has slashed services as essential supplies are held up at gang-controlled ports.

“If things don’t change, we’re looking at running out of fuel and vital meds within weeks at University Hospital in Mirebalais,” warns the NGO in a press release. “And with that, we lose the ability to save lives. Innocent folks will perish. It’s a crisis like never before.”

Giving birth in Haiti was dicey even before the violence spiked. With an estimated 350 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, Haiti takes the dubious honor of being the deadliest place in Latin America and the Caribbean to have a baby. “You’d have to look to war-torn places like Yemen or Sudan to find worse mortality rates,” says Degernier.

A midwife confides that many women she sees are going hungry, putting them at greater risk of premature birth due to malnutrition. “Frankly, it’s safer not to get pregnant, given how the system’s crumbled,” she says.

NGOs are crying out for more cash. Last month, UNFPA bagged $3.5m, but they say they need $28m to keep women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare afloat.

“It’s not just our patients we’re worried about; it’s our midwives too, many of whom are moms themselves,” says Livesay. “They’re scared witless, trying to figure a way out. Their plight is gut-wrenching, and there’s no quick fix.”

Chaos and Childbirth: Haiti’s Heart-Wrenching Crisis

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