Haiti: Three Year Anniversary Of The Earthquake

IMA World Health/ Emily Esworthy

Three years ago, three IMA World Health staff members — President Rick Santos, Vice President of International Programs Dr. Sarla Chand and Senior Program Officer Ann Varghese – found themselves trapped beneath the rubble of the Hotel Montana when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Several beams that had fallen near the hotel’s front desk created a space barely large enough for them to sit upright. It took rescuers 55 hours to find them.

They were among the lucky ones.

Trapped near them in the collapse were colleagues Rev. James Gulley, a consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the Rev. Samuel W. Dixon, Jr., who was an IMA board member and the Deputy General Secretary of Global Health & UMCOR, and the Rev. Clint Rabb, a leader in The United Methodist Church’s mission volunteer program. While Rev. Gulley survived, Rev. Dixon and Rev. Rabb died tragically from injuries sustained in the collapse.

As many as 300,000 people died as a result of the earthquake, a million were made homeless and the city was nearly destroyed.

When Santos returned to the devastated city six months later, he was greatly uplifted when he saw the resilience of the Haitian people and the great progress the IMA team in Haiti had accomplished in the ongoing fight against debilitating neglected tropical diseases – a major focus for IMA – despite the earthquake.

“The IMA Haiti staff surpassed my expectations: not only did they survive the earthquake, but they also worked tirelessly with Health and Education Ministry staff for weeks to make sure this important health event continues to serve the Haitian people,” Santos said. “Their work is an inspiration to the entire health system.”

In June 2010 a mass drug administration, funded by USAID and implemented by IMA through a partnership with RTI International and the Haitian Ministries of Health and Education, reached out to the Northeast, Southeast, Nippes and South Departments of Haiti. More than 4,000 volunteers from the local community, trained by IMA, provided hands-on help to distribute the drugs to treat lymphatic filariasis (LF), which leads to characteristic swelling of the extremities called elephantiasis, and soil-transmitted worms. Despite the setbacks of the earthquake, nearly 1.4 million people, amounting to 20% of the national population, were treated in one month. Maintaining the ongoing schedule of mass drug administration—even in highly challenging months following the earthquake—was critical, as it takes up to seven years of consistent coverage to eliminate these NTDs from a population. Despite the obvious challenges of meeting goals in the post-earthquake setting, IMA was not willing to allow the earthquake to undo the many years of work already invested in this important health program.

Three years later, IMA remains committed to treating and preventing NTDs and continues to be a leader in its efforts to curb these diseases and their effects in Haiti. In the past year, the program achieved full national coverage—a major milestone toward the established goal of eliminating LF by 2020.

Following the 2010 earthquake that carried such personal significance for him and for IMA World Health, Santos promised that IMA would stand by the Haitian people and work to advance health for as long as it takes. This commitment has been demonstrated throughout the past three years by the tireless work of the IMA Haiti team in the fight against NTDs—and IMA will continue upholding this commitment until our work is no longer needed.