Hospital Albert Schweitzer and the Artibonite

  • Posted on: 16 March 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

The Hospital Albert Schweitzer (HAS), located in the heart of the Artibonite Valley in the town of Deschapelles, is one of the largest in Haiti.  In all, it has a staff of approximately 900 who focus on an integrated approach of providing health care, community health services, and development activities within its catchment area (and often to people from outside the catchment area who travel to HAS for treatment.)  The HAS is as indispensable to the Aribonite Valley as the Cange hospital is to the Central Plateau. 


There is an interesting book about the history of this hospital that is well worth a read entitled, "The Song of Haiti."  The book begins explains how William Mellon, in many ways a black sheep in his family, was inspired by a story about Dr. Schweitzer's humanistic and compassionate medical work in Africa.  In his forties, Mellon decided to go to medical school.  After, he and his wife Gwen arranged for the construction of the hospital and it opened in 1956.   His wife was very much an equal and an active partner in this process, playing  a crucial role in getting the hospital started and helping it grow.



The website notes that Schweitzer's Motto (Reverence for Life) is inscribed above the entrance.  They walked the walk, working and serving together at the Hospital until the end of their lives.  William died first in 1989.   In Haiti, it is normal to take out large loans in order to give deceased family members a proper funeral.  In order to demonstrate that money is better spent on the living, he had left specific instructions that he be buried in a cardboard box.



Gwen oversaw the hospital until her death in 2000.  My understanding is that the hospital experienced financial difficulties after their deaths, struggling whether to charge fees or to cut back services - neither of which would be desirable and either of which would have caused tensions in the community.  My understanding is that they are doing ok now thanks to funds received from the Gates Foundation and several other sources.



There is a clear connection between Pennsylvania and the Artibonite Valley as a result of this hospital.  You can view the website of the Pittsburgh based Friends of Haiti here.  It will provide you with details on how you can support the hospital through buying Haitian art, donating art supplies, sponsoring an art show, or helping to get the word out.



Our neighbors to the North also have a Canadian Friends of HAS and seem to be very active.  A list of completed projects is included on the site as well as ways to get involved.


Of couse, you can make an online donation if you prefer by clicking here.  The website also provides information on working at the hospital or volunteering.   There are about fifteen physicians on staff, but many more volunteer doctors, nurses, and other health care providers.  Many have completed rotations with the Hospital and have stayed involved throughout the years.  If you are a health care provider interested in getting involved, read more here.  I was told that the minimum period for volunteering is three weeks.  The website contains useful language links and a packet that introduces Haiti to first-timers.  I think it would be a good resource for anyone coming to Haiti for volunteer work.



I'm a moun Plateau.  But I did spend three months in the Artibonite as a Peace Corps trainee and genuinely like the region very much.....well, except for Saint Mark.   HAS is the best health care facility in the region and I hope that it will continue to thrive throughout the years. 


Welcome your thoughts.



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