Editorial

Members Quick to Respond to Haiti's Earthquake Disaster

January 27, 2010 03:50 pm "Voices" Staff

Family medicine's spirit of compassion is alive and well, judging by AAFP members' swift response after a massive earthquake Jan. 12 devastated the Caribbean island nation of Haiti. The death toll in Haiti is estimated to be as high as 200,000, with 1 million homeless and 194,000 injured, according to a Jan. 26 Associated Press news report.

Responding to the tragedy, AAFP members quickly contributed more than $50,000 to the AAFP Foundation's Disaster Relief -- International fund. Donations were still arriving at the time this story posted.

If you're a member who has donated -- thank you. Donations are immediately funneled to the foundation's partner relief agencies, Heart to Heart International(www.hearttoheart.org), or HHI, and International Medical Corps(www.imcworldwide.org), or IMC. Both have workers on the ground in Haiti. HHI has been delivering medications, medical supplies and personal hygiene kits and treating the injured. IMC has been providing emergency medical care and supplies and emergency shelter; in addition, the agency is training Haitian medical students to deliver basic first aid and assist with other medical care.

But many family physicians have wanted to do more than donate. So far, more than 120 members have contacted the Academy to ask about opportunities to become emergency response volunteers in Haiti. Some have offered special skills, such as the ability to speak French. One offered to take a team of family medicine residents along.

Volunteer health care professionals in Haiti are dealing with a variety of injuries, but crush injuries from falling debris are the most commonly seen.

Another passed on information from a family physician already serving in Haiti, who described the "decimation and hellish devastation" around her and the struggle to help others despite not having anything, "not even a Band-Aid."

All of the members who contacted the Academy would have agreed with the sentiment expressed by one, who said, "Sitting idly by is difficult."

Like the members who donate, members who want to volunteer also deserve our thanks. However, it's likely that few of them will get to Haiti anytime soon. The simple truth is that Haiti's devastated infrastructure has made it difficult to get more relief workers into the country at this time.

If you haven't yet responded to the crisis in Haiti but want to respond, consider these suggestions:

  • Donating money is the quickest way to make a difference, and donating to the AAFP Foundation's Disaster Relief -- International fund ensures that your money is used properly. In the face of media reports about Haiti charity scams, it's reassuring to know that the AAFP Foundation recently received the four-star "exceptional" rating from Charity Navigator, the largest charity evaluator in the United States. Furthermore, the Foundation passes on its international disaster relief donations only to HHI and IMC, partners that have established so-called memoranda of understanding with the foundation and proven track records in disaster relief.

Residents of Haiti try to regain some semblance of normalcy as they deal with rubble in the capital city of Port-au-Prince after a ruinous earthquake on Jan. 12.

  • If you want to work as a medical volunteer, you can take steps now to get into the volunteer pipeline of HHI or IMC. You may not make it to Haiti in the near future, but you'll be available in the system for deployments later on. There's no doubt that Haiti will need volunteers for years to come as it rebuilds its health care system. Contact Alex Ivanov, the AAFP's international activities manager, to receive information on volunteering with HHI and IMC and to have your contact information entered in a database of AAFP members interested in serving as international medical volunteers.

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