Thursday, March 11, 2010

Healthcare Workers Helping Haitians Help Themselves

The horrendous events of Haiti's earthquake earlier this year are fading from the news. We do see images from time to time and hear reminders about the devastation that occurred as a result of the tremors. The Haitian disaster was compared to the Chilean earthquake that happened just a couple of weeks ago - and the comparisons were not favorable.

For those of us who work in health care, we're reminded of our role in helping others. And many of us think about our own mortality, particularly when we think about the deaths of several Haitian doctors, nurses, and other people who work in the field.

As with most natural disasters around the world, the international community responded in a wonderful way. Countries and private companies and citizens provided money, supplies and their own workers. Sadly though, this isn't enough to help rebuild a country that needed rebuilding before the earthquake.

One of the problems that seems to hit Haiti the hardest, but also affects other so-called developing countries, is that many of the international groups, be they non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or governments, tend to rush in and try to take over. They want to do things their way and feel that if they could just teach the Haitians how to do the work and function the way the helpers think they should, all will be well.

But a country isn't that different from a business. A well-run business usually pulls information and resources from its employees and its supporters. Outside people who try to tell the business owner how to run their company are generally not well received. Their suggestions may be worth incorporating into the business structure, but outsiders don't usually come in, set up camp, and then tell the president of the company how to run it. Countries are no different.

In order for the Haitian people to get on their feet and stay there, they need to run their own country. They may need us to provide them with the skills and the know-how, but they also need to take responsibility and learn how to use those skills and know-how to be their own bosses. Just a we need to let our families grow up and learn on their own, developing countries must as well.

There's an excellent article in the March issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Recovering from Disaster — Partners in Health and the Haitian Earthquake, written by Tracy Kidder. Although the whole article makes excellent point, the last two paragraphs are particularly important, to me. If you have a minute, I suggest you take the time to read the piece. Even better, perhaps you can come back here and comment, letting us know what you think and how you feel.

1 comment:

shilpa said...

It is a excellent article and very nice. Thanks for your info.