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The Haiti Earthquake Remembered

January 12, 2020 marks the 10 year anniversary of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti.  We are all familiar with the immediate aftermath – an estimated 220,000 to 300,000 deaths; 300,000 injured; 1.5 million persons displaced; and, the collapse of hospitals, schools, homes and commercial and governmental buildings. Haiti suffered additional crises: a cholera epidemic swept the country beginning in October 2010; Hurricane Matthew caused catastrophic damage in 2016; and civil unrest peaked in 2019. Recovery and rebuilding efforts in Haiti have been massive and are, in truth, ongoing.

Ten years after the earthquake, I want to share the story of HVO’s work in Haiti and our hopes for the future:

Twenty years ago, HVO began training rehabilitation technicians in Haiti who formed part of a very limited cadre of rehabilitation professionals in the country. These rehab technicians worked as mid-level caregivers in a unique certificate program designed by HVO and our partner institution, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, to expand access to basic rehabilitation care.

In 2012, HVO began to support Haiti’s first national professional association for physical therapists, Société Haïtienne de Physiothérapie (SoHaPh), founded in the months following the earthquake.  HVO is proud of this innovative partnership, which aims to support the organization’s leadership and institutional capacity, increase the number of physical therapy providers and improve the quality of services.  In 2018, with HVO’s support, SoHaPh received full membership in the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) – a major milestone for Haiti’s physical therapy leadership and Haitians in need of care.

Our training efforts in Haiti now include projects in wound care, oral health and obstetrics and gynecology, in addition to our ongoing work in physical therapy.  While our projects are currently paused due to civil unrest, we look forward to continuing to support Haiti’s dedicated health care professionals and to developing, jointly with our partners, more innovative approaches to meet training needs.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake provided a devastating reminder of why a vibrant, well-supported health workforce is so critical to human well-being and natural disaster recovery, underscoring the importance of access to rehabilitation care.  With a new decade, we will redouble our efforts to educate, train, mentor and engage with rehabilitation and other health care professionals in Haiti and elsewhere in the world.

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