Per request, following is the full text of the speech delivered by Honorable Jacque-Edouard Alexis, former prime minister of Haiti, at the Health4Haiti fundraiser October 2, 2009 in Pueblo, Colorado.
Ladies and Gentlemen of Health4Haiti
I thank Dr. Jim Smith and his team for inviting me to share these thoughts with you regarding the status of the city of Gonaives after the natural disasters that have hit Haiti, one year or so ago.
Historic city, Gonaives is to Haiti what Philadelphia is to the United States of America, the “City of Independence.” Gonaives is also perceived as a rebellious city that has always been at the heart of major political events in contemporary history of Haiti. But since 2004, since Hurricane Jeanne, which caused 3,000 deaths and extensive damages, the city of Gonaives evokes flooding, calamities, disasters, etc.
The medical team from Colorado that began to help Gonaives since 1999 had a bitter experience. The raging waters had swept away everything; the Hospital of Gonaives, the largest health facility, was flooded with equipment and medical supplies provided by them were destroyed.
Four (4) years later, in one month time, four hurricanes, FAY, GUSTAV, HANNA and IKE ransacked the country. Hurricane Hanna, with winds of 116 kph and heavy rain hit fiercely Gonaives on September 2 and 3, 2008, and Hurricane Ike, which arrived on September 8, 2008 brought heavy rains and nailed the coffin on the city of Independence.
In the final accounting, the losses in human terms were catastrophic: 165,000 affected families – 793 killed -548 injured and 310 missing.
In terms of infrastructure, Gonaives was cut off from the rest of the country. Several rivers have over flown their banks, bridges were washed away, heads of cattle, crops, particularly rice production were lost. The city of Gonaives estimated at 300,000 inhabitants, was devastated to 80% of its PIB.
The psychological trauma itself, cannot be measured; it is said that the impact is unimaginable. There is a collective psychosis of fear whenever the sky is gray and the rain lasts too long. We tend to forget the psychological aspect in analyzing the health situation in Gonaives, because it is not visible, measurable. But it is very serious and very worrisome.
The loss in terms of crops has also had a considerable impact on the nutritional status of the population, it has gone from precarious to worse due to the global crisis of rising prices of essential commodities, the price of gasoline and the cost of living in general. The health situation must also be viewed from this angle-the purchasing power and food security.
The issues have been access to care, risks of epidemics and access to potable water due to contamination of wells, waste disposal, availability of food and electricity; it all made life difficult and miserable.
The emergency appeal launched by the UN to collect approximately 108 milling dollars in order to finance humanitarian emergency has garnered only 29% of the amount requested. But the solidarity between the peoples has played out and relief came from everywhere in all forms, hygienic kits, clothing, medical supplies, etc.
Let the records show how we value in a special way the solidarity shown by the Colorado group. We are grateful for those 10 years of services in various forms, at all times rain, snow, sunshine or troubles. For the sake of precision we will mention:
1). Consultations at the Hospital in Gonaives;
2). Many medical missions to Bayonnais and elsewhere;
3). Construction of a dispensary in the school of St. Basil the Episcopal Church;
4). Support of all sorts for hurricane victims: clothing, food, petty cash, drugs;
5). Donations to the School of Nursing (FASI) of UPAG: blood pressure machines, operating room uniforms for students, nursing books, journals, training modules, etc.;
6). Introduction of modern anesthesia to HPG in providing newest anesthesia machine and equipment. Than modern and sophisticated equipment to destroy the anesthetic risks pre-and intra-operative.
7). Gifts of pediatric incubators and various appliances.
According to a note published in the newspaper Le Nouvelliste March 19, 2009, I know that the Health Minister, Dr. Larsen, paid tribute to you for the gifts mentioned above.
I have been made aware of your major donation in the mission of December 19, 2008, with Airline Ambassadors International, which has distributed 50 tons of good to the victims of the disasters of September 2008.
Let me solemnly express my thanks and gratitude to you for all you have done. That is from the bottom of my heart and on my name, my wife, and Gonaives as well. Also, special thanks to the authors of the proclamation which dedicated this day of October 2nd to my country, Haiti. Thank you to Vera Ortega, President of City Council and Jeff Chostner, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioner.
I also say thank you to Jane Rhoades, given her dedication and commitment to improve the care and delivery of medical services on Gonaives. I congratulate you Jane for your promotion as president of the Regional Catholic Health Insurance.
Medical assistance to the population was rather crucial. It represented a tremendous effort for the authorities in Haiti to heel the health issues during the emergency phase: wound care, diarrhea, skin infections, vaginal infections, etc. A securest hospital was put in place to accommodate the population and its immediate needs. The regular Hospital having been completely destroyed, as you know.
The combined efforts of local groups ( sanitation group) and the different medical missions in Gonaives have helped to limit the damages and prevent any major outbreak that could otherwise derail the health system in Haiti. However, the situation remains precarious, even worse compounded by the loss of capital, the risk of insufficient food supply, destruction of crops and the very low immunization coverage of the population at large.
That is in addition to other issues such as environmental vulnerability and other social factors like poverty, rapid and arbitrary urbanization.
Notwithstanding the health issues, the educational system has also suffered badly in the recent disasters. The government had to postpone the schools opening for the year to October, but as for Gonaives schools open in January 2009. The everlasting occupation of the schools that served as shelters, the destruction of furniture and teaching materials, the destruction of school buildings, the disinvestment of families who have lost everything are all explanation for this delayed recovery of school activities in Gonaives. Needed funds for the education sector to recover was estimated at approximately $73 million for the entire country after the floods. This has aggravated the situation in the education sector where there are already 500,000 children out of school, and also increased the risk of dropout.
The school is usually the link of community life. Their functioning is the first sign of a return to normal life after a disaster.
I was the one who came up initially with the idea of National School of Nursing for Gonaives in rebuilding and rehabilitating the city and at the same time promoting community health and preventative medicine. It is one way to improve health care in the hospital and the region as a whole. I do count a lot on this Colorado team to strengthen this situation through a strong and solid partnership or even beyond:
At this juncture I wish this formal partnership exemplary making Pueblo the sister city of Gonaives?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tremendous efforts are underway to help Gonaives to recover. The new Hospital which will be relocated at another site shall not only be seen as progress toward development but also improve and create better living conditions than prior to the hurricanes…
It is a question of rebuilding it with stricter standards to sustain hurricane hazards. The new structure should also serve as a shelter to the population in case of need. The new Providence Hospital in Gonaives will reflect that reality.
In the area of education, we ought to promote a culture of ability and preparedness to reduce the impact of hurricanes on infrastructure and population: Risk management and prevention. Education has a vital role to play in providing information and awareness for this culture of risk management and prevention.
The task awaiting us is immense. It requires strong and effective government to serve the people as well. We need a visionary government with clear stated goals and objectives for the future, or the long term. All this, however, can never replace human solidarity and universal humanism that brought us together tonight, despite the distance and personal concerns and preoccupations in our daily living.