International impact: Dean Flotte reports on his recent medical mission to Haiti

August 11, 2011

At any given time of year, there are scores of students, faculty and researchers off campus—some way, way off campus—in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Ghana, Liberia, Haiti—providing aid, serving fellowships and gaining experience they can apply to their work, and their patients, here at home. As an ongoing, periodic feature on UMassMedNow, we will feature some of these travelers—sometimes in their own words—to offer some insight into the impact, both small scale and large, that the people of UMMS are making on our world.



Terence R. Flotte, MD, executive deputy chancellor and provost, dean of the School of Medicine, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor in Medicine and professor of pediatrics, talks about his experiences in Haiti, which he has visited four times since the devastating earthquake in early 2010.

Haiti 18 months after the earthquake: The new normal?

I just returned from my fourth visit to Port-au-Prince since the January 12, 2010, earthquake. Finally, one can see some signs of progress. There is very little rubble left in the streets. About half of the city tent dwellers have been relocated. Is that good news? Perhaps, but the reality is that there are still close to a half million living under tents in Port-au-Prince, and the ones who have been relocated are not in houses, but rather in larger tents outside of the city. Were these locations chosen to reduce the density of crowding or to get the problem out of plain sight? The country has a new president, former pop singer Michel Martelly. We wish him well, but he has yet to form a coalition government in the parliament and there is no prime minister.

The health situation for the children we serve in the general hospital, Haiti’s University and Educational Hospital (HUEH) and now the Catholic children’s hospital (St. Damien’s) continues to deteriorate. Tuberculosis is rampant. Vaccine-preventable illnesses and preventable overwhelming bacterial infections like meningitis and sepsis are common, and take a terrible toll in lives lost. I was still witnessing child deaths there on a daily basis. This is a crushing reality in human terms. Cholera has surged again after the return of the spring rainy season. HIV infection is ever-present. Malaria and dengue fever are endemic. Attempts to treat these are thwarted by the continued instability of the housing situation. There is no attempt to treat household contacts of TB cases, and relocating the tents outside of the city may help with overcrowding, but it hinders the ability to track contacts. Clean water and sanitation are better, but still substandard.

In short, it is two steps forward, one and half steps back. The bigger danger seems to be a loss of focus. Health officials are beginning to make statements that compare the current dispersed tent housing favorably with the slum dwellings that preceded the quake. That may be true, but it is not sufficient. This should not be accepted as the new normal for Haiti. We as a world community can do a lot better.

Related links on UMassMedNow

International impact: Dean Flotte revisits Haiti to continue to help
Physicians and nurses respond to Haitian crisis
UMMS donates 500,000 doses of life-saving tetanus/diphtheria vaccine to Haiti
GSN’s Janet Fraser Hale reports on her recent experience as a member of a medical relief team
UMass Worcester students join forces to send aid to Haiti