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Fire at Medical Missionaries-supported Haitian clinic

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An April 4 fire destroyed solar panels on top of the St. Joseph Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti — a critical source of electricity for a health care facility that cares for villagers in remote towns on the Haiti/Dominican Republic border. Batteries exploded, setting aflame the wooden building that housed the equipment on the roof of the clinic. No one was hurt by the flames, and the concrete clinic building was unscathed.

An April 4 fire destroyed solar panels at the St. Joseph Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti. COURTESY

LR clinic fireThe clinic opened in 2007 with support from Medical Missionaries, a Manassas nonprofit led by Dr. Gilbert Irwin, who saw the need for medical care in the area while volunteering in the neighboring diocesan mission in Bánica, Dominican Republic. 

The destruction of the solar panel poses big problems for the clinic, said Irwin. “The solar panels were the major means of getting electricity down there,” he said. “The national grid just connected to the clinic in January and that only works intermittently. We did have a diesel generator backup, but unfortunately that’s very expensive to run and it can’t run continuously.”

Though it’s more difficult now, the staff of around 35 is still trying to maintain its many programs for the patients. “It is the only health center in the area. More than 20,000 people are treated at the clinic each year, including many for emergency services, hypertension and diabetes,” said Clinic Administrator Junior Charles Saint-Fleur. “We help pregnant women get prenatal care and more than 45 babies are born every month. It also helps many malnourished children and has a very important dental program.”

The clinic and its supporters have faced many challenges, such as the 2010 earthquake, a cholera outbreak, and chronic problems getting supplies, but the fire coupled with the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak is daunting, said Irwin. “Just imagine what would happen with all the viral problem we’re having here in this country if the grid went out,” said Irwin. “You can appreciate the difficulty these people are in.”


Find out more

To help the St. Joseph Clinic, go here or mail a check to 9590 Surveyor Court, Manassas, VA 20110. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020