Emerging Pathogens Institute - University of Florida

EPI Visits Haiti

March 8, 2017 -- Professor Glenn Morris, Director of UF’s Emerging Pathogen Institute (EPI) led a delegation on a visit to Haiti December 5-8, 2016 to lay groundwork for the first-ever Water Summit planned for Summer, 2017.

Professor Morris was accompanied by Dr. Thomas A. Pearson, Executive Vice President for Research and Education, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine, UF College of Medicine, Dr. Valery E. Madsen Beau de Rochars, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Services Research, Management, and Policy, UF College of Health and Health Professions, and Thomas Lane, Development Specialist, UF Emerging Pathogens Institute. The group was welcomed by Florence Sergile, Research Coordinator, Haiti Projects, UF Emerging Pathogens Institute.

While in Haiti the UF contingent met with various Haitian government, medical, and educational leaders and toured the new Medical College campus of the State University of Haiti, set to open shortly. The group also visited two non-governmental organization (NGO) medical/educational facilities as well as a cholera treatment center.

With potable water being a critical need in Haiti emphasis was placed upon developing a framework for an EPI-envisioned Water Summit wherein members of Haiti’s government, public health organizations, and State University of Haiti scientists can meet with UF faculty and other interested parties from the US to develop a strategic plan to address Haiti’s water crisis.

Lack of potable water is a national health emergency in Haiti and shows no abatement since the earthquake of 2010. Indeed, incidences of cholera are increasing, especially after the hurricane of 2016. Many post-earthquake wells drilled by NGOs are dysfunctional due to obsolete equipment and many still in use are contaminated with coliform bacteria. Also, where wells sit idle, alternate sources of potable water are not always safe. Consumption of unsafe water – either from contaminated wells or from unsafe alternate sources where wells are idle – contribute to Haiti’s growing public health menace.

Another issue with respect to water is the critical role played by standing water in proliferation of mosquito-borne illnesses (such as Zika and Malaria). These maladies represent an ongoing threat throughout Haiti.

It is essential that a strategy be developed, with workable tactical parameters such that Haiti can begin to address the epidemics directly related to unsafe water.

Another issue EPI hopes to address, and which was pursued during the December visit is that of a more robust partnership with the Respire and the Christianville educational and medical facilities.

Christianville is a 35-acre campus 20 miles west  of Port Au Prince. It consists of a school, aquaculture, chicken, and goat farming infrastructure, as well as housing for volunteers. EPI has built on-site one of the only BS-3 laboratory in the Caribbean. This lab is capable of providing much needed services to the people of Haiti in a variety of efforts to combat public health issues which challenge the country.

When EPI initially partnered with Christianville, the agriculture apparatus was fully functional. Harnessing the availability of protein (eggs, chicken, goat’s milk and meat, and fish) the children attending the school at Christianville were offered daily protein at least equal to the UN’s minimum daily recommendation. Within a short time, test scores and academic achievement among the student population excelled as these children were advantaged by this daily protein supplement.

EPI sees such humanitarian extension of its research as critical to Haiti’s long-term advancement, and hopes to extend this model to other areas of the nation.

Currently UF’s partnership with Christianville is dormant. The aquaculture and agriculture operations at Christianville were idle during EPI’s visit and efforts are underway to assist in re-starting these vital programs.

While in Haiti, the UF contingent also visited Respire, a remarkable mountain-top teaching and rehabilitation facility. Inspired while on a visit to Haiti, Respire was envisioned, pursued, founded, built, and managed by Megan Boudreaux. The school attracts children from surrounding hamlets and serves also as the focal point for health care otherwise unavailable. The entire operation is a testament to Megan Boudreaux’s vision and dedication to improving the lives of all who participate in Respire’s programs.

UF – especially EPI – has a long-standing partnership with Respire which we look to expand by supporting its efforts with additional trained public health personnel.

The earthquake completely destroyed the Medical College of the State University of Haiti and took the lives of several students. The ensuing years have seen this institution continue its curriculum in tents on the grounds of the destroyed building.

With vital input from EPI, a new state of the art structure was built on the site of the destroyed college. We were privileged to accompany Dr. Glenn Morris and Dr. Jean-Claude Cadet, Dean of the School of Medicine and Pharmacy for the State University of Haiti on a final inspection tour of the facility just prior to its scheduled opening.

The facility is a remarkable achievement and bears the imprint of EPI’s collaboration. Dr. Morris and Dr. Cadet share the vision of UF sharing teaching and learning opportunities by rotating and exchanging UF and State University of Haiti medical faculty and students each semester. The ultimate goal is to participate in training Haitian physicians – including stints at UF – and encouraging their return to Haiti for private practice.

Dr. Beau de Rochars, who is Haitian, sees this collaborative effort with the goal of increasing the number of Haitian physicians who stay and practice in Haiti as central to solving Haiti’s public health deficiencies.

While in Haiti the UF group met with Dr. Jacques Boncy, Director of the Haitian National Health Laboratory about Haiti’s ongoing cholera epidemic. It is EPI’s goal to help initiate and lead a focused effort to halt the current cholera epidemic in Haiti through a collaborative approach to procurement of potable water, elimination of tainted water supplies, increased medical services to cholera patients, and concentrated research regarding the spread of the disease and steps which must be taken to stop its transmission.

While seeking to improve public health in Haiti, EPI seeks to enhance the value of its research by helping to improve the lives of the Haitian people through clean water, collaborative approaches to the training of physicians and other public health professionals, providing hands-on help in treating cholera victims, offering leadership and assistance in establishing best practice research, and through making available to school-age children a daily supplement of protein.

Dr. Morris and EPI believes such a holistic approach to UF research and involvement in Haiti will result in significant improvement in the quality of life for the Haitian people as well as modeling an entrepreneurial approach to collaborative and constructive cooperation among all the disciplines brought to bear on such a vital issue.

To accomplish the important goal of developing a comprehensive strategy to provide dependable sources of potable water for all Haitians, EPI needs your help. We seek opportunities to speak before civic and philanthropic groups, to provide program materials for groups interested in promoting public health in underdeveloped countries, and we seek contributions from individuals who want to help in this vital effort.

Please click here to make a contribution, request information, or to tell us about a group we might address.

Thank you.