Monthly Archives: February 2013

Not Goodbye, but Until We Meet Again, Haiti

Editor’s note: This is Dinah Waldsmith Dittman’s fourth and final dispatch from Haiti, where she and Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, senior vice president for community benefit, health policy and research, traveled  for the opening of a new Ministry of Public Health and Population building in Port-au-Prince.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

This is the day that we say farewell, or actually “Au Revoir” (“until we meet again” in French), to Haiti.

A few of the lasting impressions for me have been:

  • The graciousness of the Haitian people we’ve met; it’s clear that they are accustomed to working in community to get things done, and that good manners are important to them.
  • The bonds that people have with the place and its people, while in Haiti and coming/going in the airports, we saw many groups of volunteers and missionaries who have been making regular trips to Haiti to help in various ways (building houses, teaching children, providing health care in remote areas) as well as people who started coming after the earthquake and “got hooked on helping”, as one of them said.
  • The size of the challenge of prudently using the financial support that was pledged to Haiti from all around the world, when there are many competing needs and much to be agreed upon.
  • The importance of understanding the culture and the history when looking at the present. One of the CDC leaders, who has served in public health positions in many countries around the world, gave a brief history to those of us traveling in the van with him yesterday. The historical agreements that leaders of Haiti made with France, regarding ending slavery and breaking up plantations into small farms, shaped the current society, including some of the issues that Haitians struggle with.

I knew this before going to Haiti, but the trip reminded me….. We have much in common with each other. We discover more about the world and its people  if we are willing to let go of assumptions, be compassionate, and try to connect with each another.

Au revoir!

At Last: Opening a New Building for Health in Haiti

Monday, Feb. 25

This is the day we’ve been waiting for – when we get to meet the Minister of Public Health and Population and see the new building!

The day started bright and early and was on a fast-paced schedule throughout. We had a briefing from CDC Foundation staff at an outdoor buffet breakfast – even at 7 a.m., it’s warm in Haiti! I tried a local favorite of hot dark chocolate blended with coffee; it was delicious.

Well-briefed and well-fed, we boarded the vehicles with local drivers (a must for visitors, between the heavy traffic and the vague traffic rules, it’s best to leave the driving to the Haitians), and headed across town to the site of the new MSPP building.

We were welcomed by Dr. Florence Guillaume, a warm and gracious woman who is clearly deeply committed to improving access to care and the general health of the Haitian public.

She told us about her “promise to God” that she would do her job well and take care of the people. Already, she’s been making progress in maternal health and getting many more people into HIV-AIDS treatment and care. She talked about her plans to prevent cholera, a disease that showed up in Haiti after the earthquake and took many peoples’ lives. And she spoke at some length , along with partners from the CDC, about the work underway to assess and work on decreasing  violence against children in the country.

There was an official ceremony of the deed to the building being signed over to the Ministry, followed by giving her the keys to the building and cutting a big purple ribbon (she saved the bow to hang on the wall in her office). We had lots of photos, and I gave her a Kaiser Permanente tote bag (one of the colorful laminated fruit and veggie totes) that had a little bag inside it with a KP eco-friendly pen and pencil, a packet of sunscreen and a tube of lip balm, along with a  “Thrive” handheld fan – very useful in a tropical climate! We left a supply of these gifts for her to give the MSPP employees when they move into their new office space in a few weeks.

After that, we went for a tour, dedication and press conference to the Haiti National Laboratory, which is also housed in two modular buildings designed and built by the same company, Proteus On Demand, that built the MSPP building. Their buildings come equipped with furniture, mechanical and electrical systems, computer wiring and office furniture, which is a major advantage in these rebuilding situations.

The late afternoon was spent in briefings with CDC staff, bringing us up to date on the work that they are doing, partnering and providing technical assistance to the MSPP, and also in partnership with USAID and the United Nations. The people who work for CDC are really an impressive group; very smart and committed, and genuinely nice people who care about health around the world. It was clear that these folks enjoyed working with one another, weren’t put off by a challenge or a change in plans, and that they are in this work for the long haul.

The people of Haiti are industrious and resilient. We look forward to hearing about the progress that they are determined to make to improve their health and economic well-being in the years to come.

Dinah Dittman and Raymond J. Baxter Arrive in Haiti

Editor’s note: Dinah Waldsmith Dittman is national director for community engagement and philantrophy at Kaiser Permanente. She and Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, senior vice president for community benefit, health policy and research, are traveling to Haiti for the opening a new Ministry of Public Health and Population building in Port-au-Prince. This is her second dispatch.

Sunday Feb. 24

This is our first day in Haiti, joining other folks whose organizations are partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help improve public health in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people and displaced almost 2 million more.

As we flew from Miami to Port-au-Prince, it was sinking in for me that this trip is really, finally happening. The airplane announcements were in French, and then English, and I heard a smattering of Haitian Creole spoken among my fellow passengers.

This afternoon, we were met at the airport by U.S. Embassy staff and driven (with lots of horn honking and going around stopped vehicles) to a hotel in nearby Petion-Ville, where the Haiti Delegation is staying. We were welcomed to a reception and dinner at the home of Pamela White, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti. White has spent her U.S. Department of State career working in developing countries confronting issues similar to those that Haiti faces – infrastructure, sanitation, hunger, poverty and health.  She is originally from Maine, and has a very candid and practical approach as to what is working and what’s not. She’s been in her post for about 6 months, but is very clearly a quick study and a results-oriented person.

Our colleagues in the Haiti delegation come from a wide variety of backgrounds and training. They come from U.S. government agencies, humanitarian aid organizations, and private companies. The group includes nurses, military officers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, business managers, and scientists. Many have worked in developing countries, some had worked in Haiti many years ago and returned to help with the recovery and rebuilding after the earthquake. It’s an impressive group, and it was nice to have an evening that included getting to know each other a little and finding the connections that we didn’t know we had. (Several of the Haitian guests told Ray Baxter that they had family members who work for Kaiser Permanente!)

At the reception, I met a woman named Marilyne, who is Haitian and works for J/P HRO, the humanitarian relief organization that Sean Penn founded to help with disaster relief rebuilding in Haiti.  She talked about how the focus of their work is to help pay to create emergency and primary care clinics in the neighborhoods affected by the earthquake, and also to pay for removal of rubble in the places where people had homes. She reflected that people wanted to build back in the places that they were accustomed to living, that they feel connected to the place that they are accustomed to calling home, and they don’t want to move (or be moved) elsewhere. Such a familiar refrain….

Monday, we meet Florence Guillaume, MD, who leads the Ministry of Public Health and Population (Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population or MSPP), and the people who built the building that she and her staff will be moving into.  We’ll take lots of photos!

Returning to Haiti to Open a Center for Health

Editor’s note: Dinah Waldsmith Dittman is national director for community engagement and philantrophy at Kaiser Permanente. She and Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, senior vice president for community benefit, health policy and research, are traveling to Haiti for the opening a new Ministry of Public Health and Population building in Port-au=Prince. This blog was created from “Dispatches From Haiti,” a relief blog created in January 2010 to share updates by Kaiser Permanente caregivers who served in Haiti in the chaotic weeks and months following the devastating earthquake there.

Saturday, Feb. 23

Today is the start of our trip to Haiti, which has been three years in the making.

The two of us representing Kaiser Permanente — Ray Baxter,  SVP of community benefit, health policy and research, and I — travel as far as Miami today. Tomorrow, we will be connecting with the rest of the Haiti delegation, then traveling to Port-au-Prince in the afternoon for two days of meetings and site visits – and, finally, a ribbon-cutting!

We are going to meet the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) in Haiti and its leader, Florence Guillaume, MD, and see the new headquarters building that was constructed as a replacement for the one destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. Kaiser Permanente provided the funding for the new building, through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation and an innovative and humanitarian-minded engineering and construction company, Proteus.

This is truly a story of partnerships, patience, tenacity, determination, and diplomacy. Immediately after the earthquake, the MSPP leadership and staff were scattered across Port-au-Prince, doing the best they could to operate the country’s public health system with no telephones, electricity, computers or supplies. Almost all disaster recovery and rebuilding has its challenges, and Haiti has been no exception. The country’s fragile infrastructure, poverty, political unrest, and overwhelmed local coordinating agencies make it difficult to make progress. Several times, this project has had two steps forward and one step back. Nevertheless, we have all hung in there, determined to give the Haitian people a permanent home for their public health agency.

Dr. Guillaume and her team have been working in several temporary trailers (“portables”) and giving input to the CDC Foundation and Proteus as to what they need and want for long-term space from which to operate. The new building is functional and modular….and earthquake and hurricane proof!  We can hardly wait to see it, and to greet our Haitian colleagues with a warm, “Bonjour! Kijan ou ye?”, or “Hello! How are you?”