Though world stood still, things moving forward in Haiti

U. of C. professor of medicine helping launch residency program in Haiti, marking 2nd anniversary of quake.

 Dr. Evan Lyon, of the University of Chicago, has returned to Haiti to help launch a residency program and mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the nation. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / March 9, 2008)
Dawn Turner TriceJanuary 11, 2012

This was the email Dr. Evan Lyon sent Jan. 17, 2010, five days after Haiti’s devastating earthquake:

drove past the main central park in (Port-au-Prince) where at least 50K people must be sleeping and it was almost silent.

people cooking, talking, some singing and crying.

people are kind, calm, generous to us and others. even with hundreds lying on the ground, open fractures, massive injuries of all kinds.

there are few dead bodies on the street.

stench is everywhere.

the city is changed forever

Thursday is the second anniversary of the earthquake, and Lyon returned to Haiti last week to check on patients he hopes to bring back to this country for care, to help launch a new residency program for Haitian doctors, and to mark the anniversary.

Lyon, 40, is a Harvard-trained physician and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. He’s also the medical director of the Right to Health Care Program for the international medical and social services organization Partners in Health.

When he arrived in Port-au-Prince last Friday, he headed to a hospital in Carrefour, the neighborhood that was near the epicenter of the earthquake. He was on his way to meet a 20-year-old woman whose bone cancer had metastasized.

Lyon had been working with the woman’s doctors from his office in Chicago since last fall and they had asked him to explain to her why she was no longer a candidate for treatment in the United States, as her condition was terminal.

Although the woman’s cancer had nothing to do with the earthquake, she and her mother had been living in a tent since the disaster.

“I’ll be checking in with other patients who will be able to come to the States for care,” said Lyon. “But unfortunately, this young woman isn’t one of them.”

On the way to the hospital, he said, the first thing that struck him was how quiet the streets of Port-au-Prince were. And that’s a big difference even since September, the last time he was in the capital.

“We drove through the downtown in the middle of the city near the presidential palace and there’s a massive refugee camp” around the site, said Lyon. “There are about 15,000 people in that part of town. But things are eerily quiet and it almost felt better when more was happening in the streets and there was more activity.”

Tens of thousands of people lost their lives in the earthquake, and about 1.5 million were displaced. About 500,000 still live in temporary housing, according to Partners In Health.

Lyon said that though most of the residents have moved out of the capital and into long-term settlement camps, he fears that some people may not have immediate access to health care or other services.

“There’s been more engagement, more work and, in some ways, more progress over the last two years than in years before,” he told me. “But it still doesn’t come close to meeting the size of the need.”

As he rode through the city, he said that though the main roads have been cleared of debris and makeshift tents, none of the buildings housing the ministries of health and interior or the Supreme Court have been rebuilt. The landscape has gaping holes and, for miles, bears little resemblance to the Haiti he remembers back when he first arrived in 1996 as a music teacher.

Much work remains in Haiti, including stemming a cholera epidemic that began in October 2010, and continues with about 600 new cases a day. Lyon has been working with a human rights organization that’s investigating the cause of the epidemic, which, as of Dec. 25, had killed at least 7,001 Haitians, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health.

Despite all of this, there are signs of hope.

Lyon said one example is a new residency program that was launched this week at a hospital Partners In Health runs with its Haitian sister organization Zanmi Lasante in St. Marc, about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

“Of all the work that needs to be done here, this is entirely optimistic,” Lyon said.

He said the program will teach Haitian doctors how to be family practice physicians.

As part of the program, Lyon and other physicians will conduct classes over the Internet and travel to Haiti to teach. The University of Chicago also will start a one- to two-year fellowship in which trained doctors will work and teach in Haiti for about six months a year.

“Two years after the complete destruction of the main hospital and medical school, we’re making progress, although it never feels fast enough,” he said. “Within a year, a new national teaching hospital (built by Partners in Health and Haiti’s Ministry of Health) will open. It’s a nice way to think about the anniversary. Despite the many challenges ahead, we’re moving forward.”


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