A press release by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced the next phase of Haiti's largest vaccination campaign ever. According to PAHO, Haiti has the worst health indicators of any country in the Americas, including the highest rates of infant mortality and lowest rates of childhood immunization. This campaign will go a long way towards changing that. As Wyclef states in the Public Service Announcements that kicked off the campaign, "To vaccinate a child is an act of love".
Security and food security go hand in hand in countries like Haiti that are dependent on importation for survival. President Rene Preval announced a 15 percent cut in rice prices and a series of measures to uphold national food production namely by providing subsidies, credit and technical assistance to farmers. Rice exports are banned. However, Haitians cannot survive on rice alone. Corn, beans, oil, etc. all remain expensive. The President has yet to appoint a Prime Minister who can assemble a new Cabinet. We hope, whoever he or she is, the new Prime Minister will take food security seriously and communicate often with the public about what is doing to reduce food costs and improve national production. This should have been a priority long ago.
Don't forget - Mother's Day is Sunday, May 11th. Project Medishare has released a special Mother's Day Appeal to complete their innovative program to treat malnourished children with locally grown ingredients. Once established in Thomonde, Project Medishare wants to expand their coverage throughout the entire Central Plateau. You can make a special donation in your mother's name to Project Medishare this year, helping to make sure that Haitian mothers are able to keep their children nourished and healthy.
Friday was World Malaria Day 2008. Global health depends on controlling this global disease. It is the leading cause of death in African children and a major health concern in Haiti. It overwhelms fragile health care systems and hurts economies - the annual economic loss in Africa due to malaria is estimated to be $12 billion (1.3% loss in GDP.) Yet, we know how to prevent it and how to treat it. There has been tremendous progress made in the past year, so much so that the international community increasingly agrees that we should begin working toward eradication - in other words, a world without malaria. It would be a better world indeed.
Today is World Health Day, a time to step back and ask if the world is becoming healthier. On some areas such as HIV/AIDS and malaria we are making progress. Yet we are falling behind in other areas such as maternal and child health. We are also ill prepared to deal with the negative health consequences of climate change - the theme for this year's World Health Day. Though it will be an issue for all of us, it will most severely affect the poorest of the poor. When it comes to public health, however, we are all in it together.
If this were a blog about HIV or Malaria, I could write about the advances that we have seen in the past year. Alas, this is just a blog about tuberculosis - a disease as old as humanity that we have not yet been able to tame. One third of the world's population is infected with tuberculosis. Clearly, much more remains to be done for Haiti and for the world.
The Jolivert Safe Water System developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Pan American Health Organization is a successful example of a community-based clean water program. CDC partnered with Missions of Love Clinic in Jolivert and Deep Springs International to treat water using a hypochlorite solution in a safe container at home. The program employs local Haitians to produce and distribute the solution, while providing community education on healthy water and sanitation practices.
Haitian leaders tend to get bogged down in ever-unstable Port au Prince. It is a matter of political survival. However, most of Haiti is rural and certainly most of what is good about Haiti is to be found outside of its largest city. Recently President Preval made a public tour of the Central Plateau. We were happy to see that public health was a recurring theme of his trip. Regardless of one's political beliefs, we can all agree increased attention to public health is essential. When a person has health, a person has hope. Where there is hope, there is also the possibility of development and a better future.
I recently came across a document I wrote years ago as part of a training for ex-pat health workers at the Hopital Justinien in Cap Haitian. It concerns how to provide health services to Haitians. I wrote it for two reasons. First, cultural misunderstandings in a medical context can have serious consequences. Second, I was bothered when I would sometimes hear expat health care providers complain about how hard it was to work with Haitians - as if there were something wrong with them. Quite the contrary. To be an effective provider, one has to know his/her own culture as well as that of the patient.
There are more Haitian doctors in Florida than in Haiti. When you speak to them, their frustration is palpable. Many want an opportunity to give back to their country - but at the same time, they want the resources and tools they need to make a difference for their patients.