Eye Doctors Work to Rebuild Health Services in Haiti

It has been one year since the devastating 7.0 earthquake rocked the nation of Haiti. On that fated day in January 2010, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and the country's infrastructure was left in ruins. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the need for urgent medical care was obvious. Yet, the disaster had not only crippled the lives of everyday Haitians but also paralyzed the medical community tasked with administering care.

Reports came in from Haitian ophthalmologists of destroyed offices and hospitals, shortages of supplies and equipment, and the challenges of treating quake-related eye injuries, such as eye socket fractures and corneal abrasions caused by falling debris, and infections that flourished in the unsanitary conditions.

Within days of the quake, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) responded by establishing an ophthalmic task force.The Task Force on Haiti Recovery is led by former Academy president Michael W. Brennan, MD, a military veteran with unique humanitarian experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is comprised of Academy members and works in close collaboration with the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology (PAAO), the Haitian Ministry of Health and Haitian ophthalmologists.

Philip R. Rizzuto, MD, was one of several ophthalmologists who went to Haiti to lend a hand. He described conditions in a blog post:

"Haitian ophthalmologists Bridgette Hudicort and François Rocourt welcomed me on arrival, and over the next five days we became friends and teammates. On Monday we restored a young woman's sight by repairing her damaged eyelid. Two functional operating rooms had been set up in a lovely old motel spared by the earthquake, now called St. Damian Children's Hospital. Later we moved on to the university hospital, where eye surgeries were done under local anesthesia, with a desk lamp for illumination. About five feet from where I was working, I saw a Haitian ophthalmologist performing cataract surgery using an irrigation aspiration bottle and a 10cc syringe. It was a far cry from the outpatient surgical facilities we have in the States."

Task force volunteers returned from Haiti bearing long lists of urgently-needed supplies and equipment. The task force worked closely with PAAO and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami Health System on the donation drive, and the Haitian Society of Ophthalmology and the University of Haiti Eye Hospital to collaborate with the Academy on distribution of the eye units and other materials. In its initial response to the earthquake, the Academy secured in-kind donations valued at more than one half million US dollars.

The work to rebuild Haiti continues. At the Academy's October 2010 international meeting in Chicago, the Task Force received donations of ophthalmic equipment, supplies, and educational materials valued at nearly $16,000 US dollars. Essential exam tools have already been delivered to Haitian ophthalmologists, as well as the other materials.

"The Academy's efforts have been consistent since the disaster," said Dr. Brennan. "From the immediate response and evaluation of needs to the subsequent facilitation and solicitation of supplies, we are proud to aid our colleagues in this trying time."

The Academy's Task Force will continue to work with Haitian colleagues to restore quality eye care. Together, they are turning the disaster into an opportunity to create improved, sustainable eye health services for the Haitian people.

Please make a donation to the Academy's Haiti relief efforts and help us continue to make a difference in the lives of earthquake victims.

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