Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on August 19, 2010

Labels: Haiti , Humanitarian Aid, Volunteers

As we celebrate the second annual World Humanitarian Day, our attention at Project HOPE naturally turns to the many volunteers and staff who have made relief efforts possible in places such as Haiti.

When the earthquake struck Haiti, doctors and nurses put aside their hospital duties, their private practices, their family vacations, to respond to this acute crisis.

The brief spotlight that shined on Haiti in the weeks after the tragedy exposed immense critical need, but it also reminded us of the country’s chronic, more “quiet” condition. If January 12th was the date that sent the country to the emergency room, then now is the time when Haiti’s caregivers must decide how to treat the chronic secondary condition diagnosed in the process.

This condition is seen in the thousands of amputees now in need of rehabilitation, as well as the widespread tuberculosis prevalent in the mountain regions and HIV in the valley populations, and in the young women dying in childbirth for lack of medical care.

The situation is serious. The very pipeline of future Haitian doctors and nurses is in peril. Hundreds of nursing students lost their lives when the nursing school, on the grounds of the country’s only public teaching hospital, collapsed. The nearby medical school was also largely reduced to rubble. And the hospital itself, which long served as the “safety net” hospital for the poor of Port-au-Prince, is now operating at less than 50 percent capacity, with many of its major facilities closed.

The prescription?

It will not be found in the well intentioned but "stand alone" efforts. Carlene Dei, USAID country director for Haiti, estimates that there are over 9,000 NGOs now working in the country, 80 percent of which are not collaborating with the U.S. Embassy and other NGOs. There must be a “whole community” effort if there is to be progress.

The effort must involve Haitian doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschappelles, Haiti, embraces the philosophy of increasing and expanding local capacity and has become one of the two leading centers for trauma-related surgical amputations and subsequent rehabilitation in Haiti—a shining example for the rest of the country to follow. To continue to be able to move forward in this way, the pipeline of future doctors and nurses must be repaired.

Just recently, I witnessed an outstanding response to the current "quiet crisis," now happening in Haiti. I saw the sailors of the USS Iwo Jima and volunteer doctors and nurses from non-governmental organizations, including Project HOPE, working side-by-side with their Haitian counterparts, engaged in treating those in medical need in Port-au-Paix, a city on the country's north coast.

It was a model of the "whole of community" approach to care that the ship's Commodore, Captain Tom Negus likened to the process of weaving a tapestry—integrating professionals from an array of specialties with the local needs of the patients.

All of these individuals, as well as those working behind the scene, making a difference in the lives of those in need, deserve our heartfelt salute on this day.

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