A little over three months ago, we watched Haiti experience an earthquake of monumental proportions. People gathered around the world to support its recovery and rehabilitation by sending millions of dollars in aid, as well as its best volunteers, doctors, and social workers.
One of these doctors was Ann Behrmann, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, and a senior advisor for the Center for Global Health.
At last week’s Global Hot Spots Lecture “After the Quake: Transforming vs. Restoring Haiti,” Behrmann shared some of her recent experiences as part of a mobile medical clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haitian citizen, student, and business owner, Jean (Gergins) Polynice, joined her in the discussion.
Behrmann accompanied her lecture with striking photographs of Haiti that she took while serving as a pediatrician with the Heartland Alliance, a non-profit organization which focuses on international health and child protection. Among them was a picture of a nursing school that had collapsed on top of the 140 nurses studying there.
“This is just one example of the huge loss of resources for healthcare that arose as a result of the quake,” Behrmann said.
Behrmann also offered reflections on how the UN’s Health Cluster was working to coordinate the 300-plus governmental and NGO groups working on health issues there, the longer term partnership of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on International Child Health with the Haitian Pediatric Society, and how it works with the University Hospital (HUEH) in Port-au-Prince to provide funds and support for the doctors and nurses working in dire conditions.
Polynice added his personal testimony to Behrmann’s analysis. He placed the crisis within the larger context of the country’s turbulent history and faltering economy. For Polynice, Haiti’s problems began long before the quake, in the 1800s when it first achieved independence from French rule at the cost of a two billion dollar debt it has maintained to this day.
“Haiti’s mismanagement and accumulation of debt weighs heavily on what it has become today,” Polynice said.
As to what we can do to help, Behrmann and Polynice both insisted that we should send money to organizations that work in collaboration with the Haitians rather than big NGO’s like the Red Cross who send resources and people from the west.
“Long term aid is not good for Haiti because it creates a pattern where Haitians can’t get up on their own feet and help themselves,” Polynice said.
They suggested that what was needed was a different approach, one that would ensure that Haiti would not fall victim to dependence on other foreign nations and aid, and which invested money in local agriculture, education, and infrastructure.
Report and photographs by Nina Gehan, Division of International Studies