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Quickly Noted: The Haitian Earthquake

January 14, 2010

As I’m sure all of you have heard, Port-au-Prince, Haiti has been rocked by a massive earthquake and days of aftershocks. On its best day, in this poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, millions lived on the edge of sickness and death; these days are far from those best days.

A phenomenal blogger, Kevin Pho, MD, has reposted a truly harrowing article penned by Michael Smith of MedPage entitled, “Why the Haiti health crisis will be worse than Hurricane Katrina’s Aftermath.” It truly is a must-read.

Everything I know about Haiti, I learned in public health class. Generally, the conversation would start off talking about Dr. Paul Farmer, one of public health’s true heroes, and the amazing work he’s done bringing healthcare to the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. MSF is usually the next topic discussed, but the undercurrent of the discussion is one of abject poverty and absolute lack of infrastructure.

Today, in the aftermath of the earthquake, what little infrastructure was available is now gone. This is an island nation of nearly 10 million souls with absolutely nothing.

For those who question the role of public health in emergency preparedness and response, it is in this situation that public health is most vital. No amount of police or firefighters or TSA agents or ESF coordinators will help here. But one good public health nurse can save hundreds of lives. When I complain about deteriorating public health infrastructure in the United States, I see Haiti at the bottom of that slope. Ignore public health long enough, and it could get that bad.

The reports from the ground are terrifying. Some are saying that every building over two stories has collapsed or is damaged beyond repair; that all healthcare is taking place in the street using only scavenged materials; that all heavy machinery has been damaged and cannot be used to clear damaged buildings and find the trapped; the single road from the airport is blocked due to debris; the list goes on, and will undoubtedly become more disturbing.

I don’t play disaster porn here. No pictures; no heart-wrenching stories. But I will leave you with a call to action. A number of relief organizations have a presence in Haiti and are actively soliciting donations to fund rescue and recovery efforts. I urge you to give.

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