When I think of Haiti, I automatically think of Paul Farmer, a physician, humanitarian and global public health advocate who has committed his life to providing health care to the poor -- one person at a time -- beginning in Haiti more than 20 years ago. I had the honor of meeting him and attending several of his lectures, while I worked as a freelance reporter for Harvard School of Public Health. 

Farmer’s life and work were chronicled in Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World,
written by Tracy Kidder and published in 2003. 
In his book, Kidder paints some memorable scenes of life and death in a country where people are lucky to earn $1 a day. 

Today, the picture must be much uglier. 

Think, if you can, of all the fighting that has gone on in our huge and affluent country in the last year over how to share our abundant medical resources. Imagine a fairly isolated and impoverished country of 9 million with almost NO health care providers. Then imagine it flattened by an earthquake

NBC’s health reporter Robert Bazell gives a good overview of the public health situation in Haiti before yesterday’s earthquake:

·         There were three hospitals in Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million. Now there are none

·         Fewer than one-third of the population has access to sanitation facilities. Fewer than half have access to clean drinking water. There is an enormous burden of diarrheal illnesses in the country, anyway.

In addition to that, malaria is prevalent and so is starvation because of the poverty.

·         Add to that widespread HIV infection limiting the availability of safe blood for transfusions, plus virtually no emergency response system.

·         Many streets in the poorest sections of Port-au-Prince also act as sewage trenches.

Today, bodies and rubble line those same streets. Bazell worries roving gangs may make rescue and recovery difficult for the humanitarian workers that come in to help. 

It all adds up to the most accurate picture of hell I could ever imagine.

For Bazell’s story, go to:

Here's an incredible wide angle photo of the scope of devastation, from The New York Times:



01/14/2010 10:02

I can't think of Haiti without thinking of my sister's Haitian experience over twenty years ago, during Baby Doc's regime.

She'd traveled to Haiti to scuba dive; but in an entire week on the reefs she'd seen just one fish longer than an inch. Poverty drove the people to take almost every living thing from the ocean. As it drove them to cut down the forests for firewood.

She said the resort served rice and beans for every meal, hardly luxurious fare, but she felt guilty eating, knowing how many people went hungry.


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