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ND continues work in Haiti one year after quake

Megan Doyle | Thursday, January 20, 2011

One year after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti, the Notre Dame Haiti Program remains present in the country through relief efforts and public health programs, Sarah Craig, the program manager, said.

“We were in Haiti before, during and after the earthquake,” Craig said. “We saw a need to step aside from our public health program to address the efforts for relief after the earthquake.”

The Notre Dame Haiti Program, led by Fr. Tom Streit, fights infectious diseases throughout the country. The program specifically targets lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis.

After the earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, the Haiti Program turned its attention to the emergency.

Streit and other volunteers provided medical support for victims of the earthquake’s destruction.

Craig said over 100 of 500 volunteers were Notre Dame alumni from the medical profession. These volunteers saw over 30,000 patients, performed 700 surgeries and delivered 250 babies during the six months following the earthquake, she said.

The volunteers faced basic challenges such as the lack of shelter, transportation, water and food. Medical supplies and support were also scarce, Craig said.

“We also are addressing some of the needs for rebuilding, specifically in Léogâne where we are headquartered,” Craig said. “Our building there is our home base and where we concentrate most of our efforts.”

According to the program’s summer 2010 newsletter, the earthquake did not alter the program’s mission.

“In truth, The Notre Dame Haiti Program’s mission in Haiti has never changed. For 17 years, the program has aided and fought for Haiti by researching elimination methods for lymphatic filariasis (LF) and neglected tropical diseases (NTD),” the newsletter stated, “But since the beginning, the overarching goal has been improving the lives of the people of Haiti, and in that respect, the last six months have been no different.”

Following the earthquake, a cholera outbreak disrupted the program’s work with lymphatic filariasis and other diseases.

“Almost worse than the earthquake was the cholera outbreak in the fall,” Craig said.

The Haiti Program will resume its disease elimination programs beginning Monday.

As the program turns back to treat disease elimination, rebuilding was still an agenda for Notre Dame volunteers.

“Disease elimination is our forte and what we are in Haiti to do,” Craig said. “But we still will work on rebuilding because we are morally and ethically responsible to do so.”

The Haiti Program headquarters in Léogâne and the program’s three other facilities in the country remained standing in the middle of rubble after the earthquake. The buildings were among the few with running water and electricity.

Student groups such as ND Fighting NTDs and the Haiti Working Group were also among the organizations that reached out to victims in Haiti. These groups used the crisis in Haiti to highlight the need for public health initiatives.

ND Fighting NTDs president Emily Conron said she hopes the club will send students to Haiti someday to witness its public health initiatives firsthand.

“We use Haiti as an example of how focusing on neglected tropical diseases can help the community,” Conron said. “By focusing on public health the economic and social and even emotional repercussions [of these initiatives are] very clear.”

The Haiti Program is an example of how public health programs can encourage hope for a better future, Conron said.

In a summer 2010 thank-you letter to all Haiti Program volunteers, Streit explained the involvement of the Notre Dame community in Haiti.

“A network of ND-connected health professionals is continuing to save lives,” the letter stated. “ND engineers have already helped determine the viability of important structural assets in several communities, while ND architects are part of a massive 11 school building project in Léogâne. Many alumni are working in response teams addressing nutrition, relief logistics and development planning.

“Haiti requires the kind of support that is both immediate and enduring as well as a profound commitment to the idea that if we are part of the Body of Christ together, we are all at this moment Haitians.”