Tufts in Haiti Begins Third Active Citizenship Summer
Two and a half years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, a group of seven students from the School of Medicine and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy have arrived to spend seven weeks contributing to the ongoing efforts to recover and rebuild. This is the third trip of the group Tufts in Haiti, led by Dr. Mark Pearlmutter, M84, and supported by Tisch College programs.
“The trip comes at a formative juncture, between the first and second year of training,” said Pearlmutter, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine. “Working alongside a Tufts public health faculty mentor and Haitian counterparts, students learn patience, flexibility, cooperation, humility, confidence, and cultural awareness. It demonstrates that, even early in their careers, giving a little has huge rewards.”
Pearlmutter started this permanent rotation for medical students following the 2010 earthquake. With previous experience in Haiti, he had already been building partnerships and was prepared to serve as a first responder, while being thoughtful about building up resources to meet long-term needs. Students spend half their time at Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, in the north of the country, and the rest of their time working on health projects in surrounding communities.
This is the first year the team includes students in the joint nutrition and public health masters’ program, Elaine Siew, M13, N13, and Michelle Rollet, M13, N13. Siew and Rollet will be assessing childhood health in Milot and the surrounding communities, with a focus on nutrition.
“We want to get a handle on the specific needs of the population,” said Siew. “That’s the first step to building interventions and treatments.”
The two plan to do mobile evaluations outside of the main town, checking kids for signs of malnutrition, and gathering data on immunization rates, incidence of accident and injury, and barriers to health care access.
“We hope to be going to local clinics that have at least a community health nurse, and possibly a doctor,” said Rollet. “But it all depends on what’s happening on the ground. We’ll go door to door if we need to.”
In the past Hôpital Sacré Coeur had a center for the treatment of acute malnutrition in children under five. But the 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic forced a shift in resources, and the center’s current status is uncertain. Making it operational is a top priority, but significant challenges remain.
“The cholera is worsening,” explained medical student Rose Yu, M15, as the spring rainy season brings floods that spread the disease. Summer hurricanes could complicate things even further.
Yu’s focus is water quality and sanitation. Working with the NGO Living Water International, she’ll help carry out widespread water testing with the aim of planning new wells that can be kept clean. Education is be a major part of her efforts.
“People think that because the water looks clear, it’s safe to drink,” said Yu. “But cholera, E. coli, and a number of other disease causing agents may be present.”
In addition to the water quality initiative, medical students Logan Pierce, M15, Alexander Shannon, M15, Julian Sonnenfeld, M15, and Amelia Curtis, M15 will work on women’s health, health care delivery beyond the hospital, and preventing chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. These projects all build on work done by Tufts in Haiti over the previous three years.
“The goal is continuity,” said Siew. “We have great faculty commitment going forward.”
“The hospital is on board too,” added Rollet. “As long as there are medical students, we’ll be there.”
Originally published July 2012