I’ve been asked this question countless times over the past five years and have never once felt I’ve been able to answer it correctly. Any two rational people who have worked in Haiti since the quake could come up with two completely different, but altogether correct answers.
The cynical answer might go something like this:
It’s still bad. The last people are just now finally leaving the tents. Many schools, hospitals, and roads that were damaged remain in disrepair. Unemployment is extremely high. A number of health-related challenges, such as near endemic levels of cholera and chikungunya — diseases that appeared since the earthquake — have had far more awful consequence because of the lack of infrastructure and resources to combat them. Deaths from non-communicable diseases and cancers are among the world’s highest. Maternal mortality is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. The country is as vulnerable to next disaster than they were five years ago.
Now for the more optimistic answer:
Things are definitely improving and many things are better than they were before. Hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes have relocated to more permanent housing. Hundreds of schools are open now. Hospitals have been rebuilt and retrofitted by Partners in Health and others with equipment never-before-seen in Haiti. People with disabilities are getting better care than ever before by groups like Healing Hands for Haiti. Deaths from cholera dropped from 10 percent to under one percent. Maternity care is getting better as midwives are being trained again. The list goes on.
My guess is both, but instead of trying to answer that question myself, I decided to ask some extremely talented and dedicated individuals who are working every day to improve the country and provide better healthcare for their people.
Here’s what they say:
Dr. Micheline Baguidy, Medical Director, J/P Haitian Relief Organization:
Right after the earthquake, the media was pointed to Haiti. The message was easier to be shared with the world and the funds came in to facilitate the work that needed to be done. Now five years later, it seems that people have forgotten. There is still a lot of be achieved and work to be done with the people in Haiti, but now with a lot less money and other support. We’ve had to do more with a while lot less.
Dr. Inobert Pierre, Director General – Haiti Operations, St. Boniface Haiti Foundation
The earthquake destroyed many healthcare facilities that haven’t been rebuilt. Today, the health system is very limited in its ability to fulfill the medical needs of the population. Last year, for example, we had shortages of vaccines against diseases like diphtheria, which exposed the shortcomings of the system.
The facilities still face a dire situation in terms of availability of supplies, medicines, equipment, well-trained personnel. With no health care insurance and the high cost of medical services, the poor – the majority of people — are refused the fundamental right of basic medical care.
In my work at St. Boniface Hospital, we strive to keep up with the numerous challenges we deal with on a daily basis. Because we have limited resources and the demand is huge, we partner with organizations such as Direct Relief and UNICEF to ensure the most vulnerable people get access to effective medicines and quality healthcare. This also enables us to provide affordable obstetrical care to save the lives of women and babies.
Despite a worsening economic situation and an increased need since the earthquake, St. Boniface has provided care to more people and made a positive impact on the families and communities that we serve.
The country made the headlines right after the earthquake, which revealed to the world the challenges Haiti faces. It was so touching to witness the world’s solidarity toward Haiti. Five years after the earthquake, too many people still lack the basic necessities of life. Many schools and hospitals that became rubble are still waiting for a second life. It’s unlikely though, since the general feeling is that, after five years, all the problems have been solved. The most vulnerable people still need a helping hand to brighten their days. We need to keep this in mind, and in the headlines.
Dr. M Edson Augustin, Assistant Medical Director, St. Luke Foundation
The weakened health system leaves us less equipped to face a major issue like the January 2010 earthquake. The unavailability of health insurance poses another significant challenge. Without it, guaranteeing urgent and quality care – as we do at St. Luke for everyone who comes through the door — is a real struggle. Fortunately, it’s one we manage to overcome. Despite limited resources, we continue to get the most needed care to the most vulnerable patients — irrespective of financial and economic status.
What gives me hope for the future? The capacity of my Haitian people to learn through experience, their dynamism, and the leadership of intelligent young men and women who work together to achieve significant and sustainable goals.
I would like people to know that Haitians can be self-sufficient with the right tools, training and opportunity. To fight poverty — the main issue in my country — we need only education for our children and work for adults. Haitian people want to live decently and unified as a nation, but poverty is really hitting us as a society. Haitian people are very sincere and capable leaders and care about their country. It’s not about ability, capacity, desire, or a determination to move forward – each of which Haitians have in abundance. It’s about poverty. That’s all.
Dr. Jessy Colimon-Adrien, Head of Pediatrics, Haiti General Hospital
The major challenges for us is the rebuilding of the main teaching public hospital. The process is very slow. Presently, the conditions are difficult because of limited settings and infrastructure. But despite all of the problems, Haiti is a beautiful country with courageous people. We need peace and better living conditions and better infrastructure to survive.