Students and Recent Graduates Respond to the Crisis in Haiti

January 25, 2010

As days pass since a devastating 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, the medical and health dimensions of the humanitarian crisis only seem to grow.

The Mailman School community joins the global response of doctors and health professionals in Haiti providing desperately needed medical attention to earthquake victims and organizing public health structures to prevent secondary outbreaks of disease.

A number of students and recent alumni from the Population and Family Health Program on Forced Migration and Health are currently on-the-ground providing rapid needs assessment, emergency medical attention, and child protection efforts. Stateside, students are organizing fundraising and service-work trips to the region for later in the year.    

In Country

Of the current students and recent Mailman School graduates working in Haiti, six of them are International Emergency Medicine Fellows , a program directed by Dr. Rachel Moresky from the Program on Forced Migration and Health and Emergency Medicine, deployed with the International Medical Corps (IMC). Physicians from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the fellows are trained in international health and disaster mitigation and management.

One of the first tasks confronting the fellows will be to conduct initial needs assessments and determine areas of assistance. As part of the IMC team, they will also be involved in:

  • Identifying prevalent epidemic diseases in the area and set up appropriate strategies

  • Training and supporting community health workers and staff on primary healthcare, health promotion and maternal and child health activities.

  • Examining, diagnosing and treating patients in out-patient clinics

  • Supporting monitoring and evaluation of activities and contributing to compilation of activity reports

  • Closely monitoring health indicators such as child mortality rate, under-5 mortality rate, malnutrition, and immunization coverage.

In addition to the IEMF fellows, a number of student and recent alumni are in Haiti as first responders. They are working with Americares, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Merlin, Partners in Health, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the U.S. Navy.

At the School

An overwhelming response amongst students wanting to help in this crisis spurred the creation of Students for Ayiti (Haiti). The group has reached out to students across the Columbia campus and aims to provide resources and information needed to coordinate aid to Haiti.
Students for Ayiti (Haiti) is coordinating a number of initiatives and means for providing help to Haiti, including:

  • Highlighting organizations that provide money for medical services or general services for those interested in making donations;

  • Connecting with organizations where students can volunteer locally to sort supplies, answering phone banks, and providing general support for the Haitian community here in New York;

  • Urging students to get politically involved;

  • Organizing an educational open forum about emergency services in Haiti and sponsoring a supply drive on campus; and

  • Planning service work in country later in 2010.

The student group plans to publish a weekly newsletter highlighting fundraising events on campus and around the city along with opportunities for volunteering. One event already in the works is a dinner fundraiser on Friday, February 12 co-sponsored by Students for Ayiti and medical and dental students from Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons.

In addition to the students, Mailman School faculty also have been lending their support to the crisis.

  • Dr. Neil Boothby, Allan Rosenfield Professor of Clinical Forced Migration and Health and Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, has been advising the U.S. Government and UNICEF in Haiti. 

  • Dr. Ronald Waldman, Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health, is on the ground coordinating the U.S. Government’s health efforts in Haiti. 

  • Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of the Mailman School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and Clinical Professor of Population and Family Health, is advising the U.S. State Department and working on disaster communications in Haiti. 

  • Dr. Richard Garfield, Henrik H. Bendixen professor of clinical nursing and faculty member at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and the Program on Forced Migration and Health, is advising the CDC on their response in Haiti and multisector assessment under auspices of the U.N., the reestablishment of surveillance systems, lab systems and the training of epidemiologists.

  • Dr. Michael Wessells, professor of Population and Family Health and senior faculty in the Program on Forced Migration and Health, co-wrote with WHO the Interagency Standing Committee Guidelines on Psychosocial and Mental Health support in emergency settings. These guidelines are currently being applied in Haiti to enable humanitarian actors on the ground to plan, establish, and coordinate a set of minimum multisectoral responses to protect and improve people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being in the midst of this tragic disaster.

  • Dr. Robert Bristow, assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine, and faculty member at Mailman School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, spent two weeks in Haiti immediately following the earthquake. Deployed with NYC Medics, Dr. Bristow worked with colleagues to provide emergency medical care in areas of Port au Prince where aid had not arrived. With the support of the 82nd Airborne, they developed mobile medical clinics that provided acute care in the difficult to access informal tent camps around the city and in the large, marginal community of City Soleil. He is continuing to provide advice and support to NYC Medics and Americares, a Connecticut based NGO that provides disaster relief and humanitarian medical aid to people in crisis in the USA and around the world.