I hope that this letter finds you safe and well during these times. We know that the coronavirus pandemic has touched us all differently, and while the burden has been great, it has not been equally shared in terms of health or economic hardship. Our hearts and hands go out to those who have borne the more difficult and onerous weight of this. I want to express our deepest gratitude for all of those on the front lines at home and around the world who are struggling to protect and support life even as it sometimes means putting themselves in harm’s way. Thanks too to those who are using this opportunity to reach out and share in myriad and creative ways (a special shout-out is deserved for a group from Portland, Maine, that was just featured in Newsweek for their efforts to encourage those who have fared better to share with those who haven’t).
The pandemic has required a massive public health response throughout the world, and has required virtually everyone to play a part. The great thing is that most people are making necessary sacrifices, big and small, in the interest of everyone. A small minority does not agree it has been worth it, but the sad paradox of effective public health intervention is that the more successful it is in addressing the public health threat and saving lives, the more it appears to have been an overreaction.
Just as people are talking about being past the peak of COVID-19 cases and easing restrictions in the U.S., it is just getting a foothold in Haiti. As testing is still very limited, it is hard to know the real incidence rate there, but deaths test-confirmed to be linked to COVID-19 are starting to mount. There are several reasons it may have arrived relatively late in Haiti, including the fact that there has been greatly restricted travel to there in recent months, and that the borders were largely closed before there was a known case in the country.
While that may have slowed the introduction, the U.S. government has been deporting people from Haiti and other Latin American countries with unknown (and sometimes known) COVID status, which could introduce more cases to those countries and greatly exacerbate the situation. The deportees are returning to settings where care is limited and the capacity to identify and isolate people with the disease is near impossible. We think this is indefensible, no matter one’s ideology.
As we saw at the beginning of the cholera epidemic in 2010, there was a significant delay before real money and resources became available to address it. As then, Konbit Sante has not waited for the international funds to flow or to receive grant funding, but are using resources our donors have entrusted to us to act immediately. We learned from the cholera epidemic that as long as there was not a successful strategy to decrease transmission in the community, the treatment and care portion of the health system would be completely overwhelmed. So, while we are working with health facility partners so that they may better offer care and comfort to patients, we have prioritized supporting the hard work of equipping communities with what they need to know and what they need materially in order to keep themselves as safe as possible.
We have been working with a wide array of partnerships that we have developed over the years to get messaging out to communities through “sound trucks,” community health workers with megaphones, and brochures in creole. We have purchased soap, chlorine, and hundreds of buckets for hand-washing stations in areas where people do not normally have access to them. We are working to bring locally produced, non-medical masks to the community, and are exploring ways to support people who need to quarantine or isolate for their own protection and the protection of others.
As we have reported, we recently sent an emergency 40-foot shipping container filled with materials to support hospital-based care and help protect the staff providing that care. We are also procuring what we can in Cap-Haitien, such as disposable overalls and face shields.
We are happy to be collaborating with people from the Haiti Medical Education Project, the University of Miami, the Fort Lauderdale Sister City group, the Dalton Foundation, and others to support material, educational, and other needs (such as food for COVID-19 workers and patients) of care facilities.
As this all unfolds, there are many things in process. We will try to keep you apprised of what we are doing so that all people are supported and protected as much as possible during this time. If we learn anything from all of this, it is that we are all in this together. Thank you for your support for your neighbors both near and far.