After the Earthquake: Rebuilding In Haiti Through Maternal and Child Health
Two years ago, Haiti was hit with a massive earthquake. Even before this disaster, Haiti’s health system could not meet the needs of its nearly 10 million people. While some things had been improving (recent years had seen a decrease in HIV infection rates, more vaccinations, and improvements in the lives of children under 5), roughly 40% of the population had no access to basic health care. The widespread devastation of the earthquake was a severe blow to this already challenged system.
Today, recovery efforts in Haiti are evolving from emergency response to long-term improvement. This past Monday, January 30, as part of an audience of over 50 people, I listened to a panel discussion on “Addressing the Evolving Needs of Haiti’s Women and Children Two Years After the Earthquake” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. The panel was led by Dr. Diane Silimperi, Vice President of Management Sciences for Health (MSH)’s Center for Health Services. Half of the panelists were from Haiti, and half were from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Population Services International (PSI). Both groups emphasized a need for improving infrastructure and for collaboration among partner organizations and the Haitian Ministry of Health (MOH) to make changes that would be sustainable and build capacity.
Monday’s panel focused on the role maternal and child health strategies have played in rebuilding after the earthquake. MSH, Population Services International (PSI), USAID, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Haitian MOH have worked together to use maternal and child health as a pathway toward broader improvements, including water and sanitation, reducing and responding to cholera outbreaks, reducing gender violence, building a university hospital system, and improving overall health infrastructure. The effectiveness of maternal and child health strategies in effecting broader change did not surprise me, given the high impact improving the lives of women and girls has on a family, culture, and society.
Kelly Saldana, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Health Infectious Diseases and Nutrition at USAID, spoke of a main strategy to give Haiti the ability to manage and maintain its own infrastructure to improve maternal and child health. Prior to the earthquake, the United States Government (USG) had been providing access to health services for 50% of Haiti’s population. Immediately after the earthquake the USG focused on the crisis and emergency response. And now they are moving into a new strategy which works more as a partnership with the Haitian government and promotes sustainability by emphasizing country ownership and leadership. Some of the areas they are working in are better training to health care workers to address maternal, child and infant care, increased pre-natal visits, increased vaccinations, increased access to purified drinking water, and helping to build a large university hospital.
Many of the programs that were in place before the earthquake were improving the overall health services and health data of the country. However, without giving Haiti the power to improve its own infrastructure, many of these programs will not be sustainable without the large organizations backing them. With Haiti’s arduous history of colonialism and political unrest, there has been trouble maintaining autonomy and leadership over its health services without funding assistance from outside organizations and other countries. From Monday’s presentation, I have hope that with a strong focus on country ownership and leadership from Haiti’s government and the strong cooperation with other collaborating partners, Haiti will be empowered to sustain its own health services and infrastructure in the future.
More about Haiti on K4Health.org: In response to the need immediately after the earthquake, K4Health gathered experts to develop a Haiti Relief Toolkit that has been used by many different organizations working in Haiti and addressing the complexities of the problems there.