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UIC SPH Students Help Haiti on the Long Road Back

Dr. Janet Lin in Haiti Banner

Although Haiti received an outpouring of international assistance immediately after a powerful earthquake struck the Caribbean island nation in January 2010, the impoverished country remains afflicted by a lack of adequate health care worsened by the country’s severely underdeveloped infrastructure.

Since the spring of 2011, teams of UI Health professionals and University of Illinois of Chicago School of Public Health students have been traveling to Haiti to provide both immediate medical care and to identify possible long-term improvements to the country’s health system. The first two teams traveled to Haiti during spring breaks in 2011 and 2012, and a third is planned for spring of 2013.

The projects are a collaboration between the Center for Global Health, an interdisciplinary research, education and service initiative at the University of Illinois, and the School of Public Health. The trips have been spearheaded by Janet Lin, MD, MPH, director of health systems development in the Center for Global Health, who holds appointments in both the center and the school. Lin first traveled to Haiti shortly after the earthquake as a team leader of an initial group of volunteer clinicians from Chicago health care institutions that volunteered disaster assistance.

“I try to develop programming that simultaneously addresses the clinical side and the public health side,” Lin says. “A lot of times, on the public health side, they understand what’s happening to the population, but they don’t see the consequences firsthand. Meanwhile, the clinicians are taking care of the consequences, but there are a lot of systemic issues they don’t see. I try to bring them together to give them exposure to the broader picture.”

Accordingly, the dozen people on each trip have included School of Public Health students, nurses, and resident and attending physicians. Working in communities near Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, the clinicians have provided primary care services, treating infections, chronic diseases and orthopaedic ailments.

“Many of the cases we see are related to inadequate access to proper health care and lack of education about health conditions,” Lin says. In response, the public health students have conducted a health needs assessment in a camp for displaced persons in Carrefour and an assessment of another community’s knowledge and needs for disaster preparedness, interviewing more than 330 local residents and stakeholders.

“We’re reviewing our findings to see what would be useful for both the Delmas community in Haiti and the international disaster response community. Hopefully, we will be able to use our assessment data to develop an effective community-level intervention,” says Ashley Dyer, MPH, who took part in both trips, the first time as a public health student, the second as a team leader. She now is a research project coordinator at Northwestern University’s Institute for Public Health and Medicine.

The UI Health teams have been collaborating with a Haitian physician who worked in the Carrefour camp and later in the community of Delmas. He also came to the University of Illinois Hospital to receive three months of training in emergency medicine in the fall of 2011. A third team traveled to Delmas, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this November to meet with the local government and continue planning, and another one is scheduled to go during spring break of 2013.

“I hope to build a long-lasting relationship where we can partner with the people we’re assisting and allow them to learn from us so that, at some stage, they’re in a better situation where they don’t need us,” Lin says.

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