Health Opportunities from a Tragedy


Children in Haiti (photo courtesy of Bradley Zeve)

Health experts seem to agree that long-term public health effects are one of the most important elements of Haiti’s disaster. The UN recently estimated Haiti’s post-quake health and nutrition needs at $82 million, but Haiti has needed help desperately for years on many fronts – infectious disease, water sanitation, building regulations. And good health care has been in short supply; in many parts of Haiti witch doctors’ superstitions still override scientific advice. managing editor Dr. Manny Alvarez said recently that the earthquake has only exasperated the nation’s already endemic problems. Water sanitation has been further endangered, and Alvarez said the catastrophic aftermath will increase Haitians’ risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases and food poisoning, as well as worsening injuries inflicted by the quake. That just touches on one of many, many issues. New and old health hurdles are now a joint part of Haiti’s long-term future.

In the past, media coverage of these problems has fallen short, too. In the few weeks prior to the quake, I actively looked for news about Haiti in traditional and non-traditional outlets. I found little. Yet, there is news in Haiti – especially health news – quake or no quake. Our media can do better.

But now is the time to glance at the past, work hard in the present and try to support Haiti as it plans for its future. Haitian-born Marie Lynn Toussaint said to me at a meeting of the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti last week:

“This is a really a terrible time for Haiti and for Haitians, but I’m hoping on the other side [that] the positive way to look at it is that it will bring the aid that Haiti has been needing for so long and that people are now aware of what’s been, at least, really going on and are willing to help and to help rebuild it.”

America can use Haiti’s most recent catastrophe as an opportunity to establish a permanent sisterhood with the island nation and to help its government establish an enhanced health infrastructure to prevent future disasters. Constant media coverage has planted the seed, and it’s already budded into a succession of charity events and a tsunami of support. We just need to make sure the aid effort doesn’t turn into an American fad. Let’s continue to nurture the relationship beyond its new beginning.

- blog authored by Allison Stevens



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