Thursday, April 15, 2010

Haiti's Future is Now

President and CEO Nancy Aossey has led International Medical Corps for more than 24 years and has overseen its expansion to include over 50 countries.

The mothers sit in a circle, babies on their laps, sharing stories of lost homes, husbands, and livelihoods. They ponder basic needs like clean water, sanitation, and getting out of makeshift tents as the rainy season begins. But most of all, they express an overwhelming fear of what the future will bring.

Recently I traveled to Haiti, where International Medical Corps has been operating since 22 hours after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck.

This disaster zone is among the worst I have seen in my two dozen years of international relief work. Building after building flattened, tent cities numbering in the hundreds. I truly don't have words strong enough to describe what has happened to Haiti - or the look on the faces of the women I meet at the Petionville Country Club camp, so named because it sits on the grounds of what once was a country club for the nation's elite.

Here, our volunteer doctors and nurses from around the world are providing primary health care, psychosocial support, nutrition services, water and sanitation – while training Haitians to provide these services in their own communities over the long-term.

My dozen new acquaintances display an admirable resiliency. However, they and all 60,000 or so of their fellow tent-dwellers in Petionville camp, are in danger. Built on a precarious slope, Petionville is highly susceptible to mudslides and flash flooding as the tropical rain season begins.

They and the nearly one million others displaced by the quake face the ever-mounting risk of a “second humanitarian crisis”, not only from being washed out of their homes but from the infectious and water-borne diseases that could result in many additional deaths. For these women, the crushing weight of their day-to-day struggles is being compounded by the fear of what very well could lie ahead.

The issues and uncertainties they face echo in the far-away policy world, where the international community has made a nearly $10 billion commitment to rebuilding Haiti. But the $10 billion question is how do we address Haiti’s long-term and short-term needs, both of which are immense? We feel it can and must be done.

Even in the middle of an emergency, International Medical Corps works to establish a stronger, more accessible health care infrastructure over the long-term. The two must happen simultaneously. Haiti’s health workers badly need training and updated standards for integrated primary health care delivery. So from the day our doctors and nurses arrived in Haiti and began treating patients, they also trained our Haitian counterparts to do the same.

As we have learned over the past quarter century from our operations in other crisis areas around the world – places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Indonesia - one of Haiti’s greatest needs is a broad-based training program in integrated primary health care practice for all health workers. That desire for a more comprehensive and resilient Haitian health care system came through clearly and consistently in my meetings with the Minister of Health, the director of Port-au-Prince's University hospital, our Haitian doctor-colleagues, and the community health workers who are the engine of Haiti’s health system.

That training of front-line health workers at all levels is essential and already underway. They help to treat tuberculosis, dengue, malaria, HIV, and other diseases; support safe motherhood and child survival; provide nutrition education; and deliver psychosocial support. They promote improved hygiene and sanitation to protect against an outbreak of diarrhea and ensure that all mothers - such as these with whom I sat - have access to clean water and readily available oral rehydration salts for their children, and understand how to protect them.

I’ll never forget the women sitting in a circle with me at Petionville camp. For them, I’d like to envision a future in which their families have access to a level of care that did not exist before the earthquake – and a health care infrastructure that can withstand the uncertainties that lie ahead.

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1 comment:

Crazy said...

very nice blog .. I liked the theme too! never thought they were going to write about it:) thanks

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