The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

News commentary: Problems in Haiti hit home

Most University of Richmond students have heard news of the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, but the gravity of the situation was made clearer on Wednesday afternoon.

The Jepson School of Leadership Studies was forced to cancel Thursday's scheduled forum because the keynote speaker, Partners in Health physician David Walton, could not leave Haiti in good conscience.

In his e-mail to Jepson staff members, Walton said that conditions in Haiti were "deteriorating rapidly" and that he was seeing more patients with cholera. With a tropical storm approaching the country, Walton said, "a really catastrophic situation is about to become unimaginably worse."

He continued, writing: "Our staffing is stretched to dangerously-thin levels because of the cholera epidemic, and if I leave there will be patients that will be unattended and will have no medical staff to care for them, and I'm certain patients will die if I'm not here. ... I really don't think I can leave Haiti. I can't let patients perish because of my absence or let the situation deteriorate even more. I have never been in a situation like this before, and to be honest Haiti has never seen anything like this before. It's truly horrific."

Much of Haiti's infrastructure was leveled during the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck there in January, and the nation remains nowhere close to recovery.

According to the Partners in Health (PIH) website, the program started in Haiti in 1987 and strives to provide health care to those in need, wherever they may be.

"At its root, our mission is both medical and moral," says the Partners in Health vision statement. "It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well - from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family - or we ourselves - were ill."

Jepson had expected a large crowd to see Walton's presentation, but his absence may have taught students more about the importance of programs like Partners in Health than his presence at a forum would have.

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti may be out of sight, but now that its impact has stretched all the way to Richmond, it should be anything but out of mind.

Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at reilly.moore@richmond.edu

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