Workers Reflect on Haiti Relief Efforts

Doctors and workers from the non-profit organization Partners in Health, joined by Harvard students and the former Prime Minister of Haiti Michèle Pierre-Louis, gathered in Sanders Theatre on Saturday to review and discuss the organization’s progress in conducting relief efforts in Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Partners in Health Executive Director Ophelia M. Dahl opened the symposium by commending the work of the group’s staff and volunteers in Haiti, who were able to treat additional disaster patients after the earthquake while avoiding any interruptions in routine patient treatments.

Partners In Health’s Chief of Mission for Haiti Louise Ivers and her driver Ounsel Mede both recounted their first-hand experiences of the earthquake’s aftermath.

Ivers said she and Mede were forced to sleep in their car—damaged by a collapsed wall during the earthquake—for two months as she delivered medical aid to those impacted by the quake.

“Accompaniment remained a common theme of our work,” Ivers said. “It doesn’t mean we were doing everything ourselves, it means we were using our bodies to share the burden.”

Mede, who shared his side of the story in Creole, said that even when Ivers told him he could leave her and go home to his family, he responded that “just like the rest of Haiti, we have to get up and keep going.”

Natasha Archer, a fifth-year medical resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was one of over 80 volunteers from various medical schools who were present in Haiti following the earthquake.

“When the cameras and news crews disappeared every night, so did many of the Haitian volunteers, since they had to return home,” Archer said.

But Partners In Health volunteers kept the camps running at night, she said. Their camps helped over 10,000 patients per week in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.

Paul E. Farmer, Partners In Health co-founder and chair of the department of global health and social medicine at the Medical School, rounded out the symposium by presenting the earthquake relief team with the 2010 Thomas J. White Prize—the organization’s highest honor.

Farmer also announced the beginning of construction on a $15 million-dollar teaching hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti, the cornerstone of the Partners In Health’s post-earthquake efforts to advance the quality of health care provided to the Haitian community.

“The best hospital in Haiti should be rooted in Haitian soil,” Farmer said.

—Staff writer Meredith C. Baker can be reached at meredith.baker@college.harvard.edu.

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