Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Much Work Still to Do in Quake-Ravaged Haiti

New Orleans, Indonesia, Haiti, Japan, Joplin. Earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, wildfires, nuclear disasters, wars, elections. The clamor for our attention is loud; the list is endless. Horror fatigue and the demands of our very busy lives combine. We seem to abandon those we previously sought to help. I am asking you not to forget them.

I’m a doctor. I’m privileged to volunteer in Chantal and Canon, Haiti. Shortly after the quake, by word of mouth one to another to the next, I was linked up with “We Care To Share, Chantal,” a 501c3 medical relief group. Chantal’s a small town, 300 miles southwest of Port Au Prince, an eight hour drive. Chantal’s population soared with quake refugees. Canon, an hour’s drive further into the mountains, is staggeringly poor even by Haitian standards.

The 2010 quake in Haiti was massive compared to the one that just struck Washington. It killed over 300,000 and destroyed Port Au Prince, the national capital. A fifth of Haiti’s population was displaced: two million people homeless, jobless, traumatized, and desperate. A high percentage of Americans texted $10 to help. In the 18 months since, obvious recovery is visible in Port au Prince but the scope of the task remains staggering.

Imagine every person in D.C., Arlington and Fairfax County instantly homeless, and all of downtown D.C. flattened like the World Trade Center. Virtually every Haitian was directly impacted.

We Care To Share’s current team includes six doctors, 11 nurses, and five dentists from eight U.S. States, six countries, three continents. Roughly half return from one trip to the next, depending on available leave time. We’re all volunteers and pay our own airfare. We’re multicultural, multiracial, and belong to most of the world’s major religions. Logistics are coordinated through the Diocese of Palm Beach. No proselytizing is ever involved.

Our fifth trip is in November. We’ll treat over 2,000 medical outpatients daily without regard to race, religion, or ethnicity. All care and all medicines are free. It’s common to have 4,000 patients waiting before 5 a.m. who have often walked all night to be there or waited overnight in hopes of treatment. There’s never enough medicine, never enough time. We know we won’t get to them all.

Generous organizations like Brother’s Brother Foundation in Pittsburgh and Crosslink International in Falls Church donate medicines. Some, like Blessings, and WHO/MAP, sell them at greatly reduced rates. We buy more from a Haitian pharmaceutical manufacturer, which supports his business in Port Au Prince, hire local translators, buy locally for our food, and go to the weekly market.

Imagine every person in D.C., Arlington and Fairfax County instantly homeless, and all of downtown D.C. flattened like the World Trade Center. Virtually every Haitian was directly impacted.

Pharmacists are needed for the November trip, more doctors, more dentists.

Patients have malaria, cutaneous anthrax, fungal rashes, diarrheal infections, severe malnutrition, parasitic illnesses, and, more recently, cholera, along with the usual spectrum of diseases seen in the U.S.

The closest permanent medical care is in the county seat, Les Cayes, which boasts two hospitals and a Doctors Without Borders clinic. That trip requires two riverbed crossings – rivers which rapidly flood whenever it rains. In this tropical country, they’re frequently impassable.

For a sick child, an ill woman with pneumonia, or a man with a serious injury, going to Les Cayes means a five-hour walk from Chantal, one way. It’s 10 hours one way from Canon. Most folks don’t have cars; bus fare is prohibitive for the average citizen. So sick people walk all day hoping they can cross the rivers to get care in Les Cayes. If they’re too sick to walk that far, they stay home and simply don’t get medical treatment.

Our relief clinic needs vitamins with iron, cans of protein powder, over the counter meds, anti-yeast and anti-fungals, toothbrushes, toothpaste. Crocs, lightweight children’s shoes. And, since children are children everywhere, small beanie babies, bubbles with bubble wands, small toys to give as “prizes” for pediatric patients – many of whom have never owned a toy.

Maybe your child’s school club, youth group, or your social group will consider a project. Collect bottles of pediatric vitamins or Tylenol, hold a car wash for the Chantal clinic. Items can be dropped off at the Fairfax County Democratic Committee office, 2815 Hartland Rd, Falls Church. Tax-deductible donations can be made through the Diocese of Palm Beach, Knights of Columbus 6988, Share program.

In addition to providing short-term relief from the triple whammy of the quake, Hurricane Tomas, and the cholera epidemic, we’re helping Chantal become medically self-sufficient.
People in need can’t afford for us to engage in momentary “feel-good, pat ourselves on the back” efforts before we focus our attention elsewhere. They need partners who’ll stick it out for long-term solutions.