5 Years Later, Remembering Haiti Earthquake

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Five years ago, a devastating, 7.0-magnitude earthquake crippled the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, leaving much of the already unstable country in ruins.

The medical infrastructure in Haiti was hit especially hard and is still recovering.

Dr. Louise Ivers, the Haiti clinical director for Boston-based Partners in Health, was in Port-au-Prince the day of the earthquake. She joined WBUR's Morning Edition to look back on that day and the progress made in the years since.

Interview Highlights

On the moment the earthquake hit:

I was actually in a meeting with the World Food Programme. We were talking about our plans to try to improve food security for people living with HIV in Haiti. The ground started shaking. Just the most violent shaking and most of us really had no idea what was happening. But within a few moments, really, we began to realize. And all around us there was quite a lot of devastation. A lot of people killed and injured. We were right in the middle of the really most desperate parts of the event.

On what happened next:

I often tell people that I can remember the first few moments in slow motion and then somebody said, "Oh, is there a doctor anywhere?" And that's when things just sped up. And the next weeks and months just flew by. There were so many injured people around us. But there was very little that really could be done in those first moments. And even in those first hours and days it was very difficult to do anything because the facilities that already had been weak beforehand had been devastated by the actual earthquake itself.

On the University Hospital project:

University Hospital is a hospital that is a project of Partners in Health in collaboration with the government of Haiti. And it's a hospital that had been planned, actually, before the earthquake occurred. But the earthquake prompted a shift in what the philosophy of that hospital would be. And given that the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, which is the main university teaching hospital, was really completely devastated by the earthquake, the idea was to construct a hospital that would now serve as a decentralized university teaching hospital.

 On the University Hospital today: 

That opened in 2013 after about 18 months of planning and construction. And it's a full-service, busy hospital. I was there just two weeks ago. It's incredibly vibrant. It's providing great care. And it's really very inspirational to see and to be part of.

On answering the question, "How is Haiti?"

You know, it's always such a difficult question to answer, "How is Haiti?" I think there are certainly areas where there's a lot of progress. I'm lucky to be part of an organization that has real depth in Haiti and longevity and to be part of something like rebuilding this university hospital, to be part of mental health programs and physical rehabilitation programs and other things that we were able to do in collaboration with our Haitian colleagues. And the government has been great. I think some sectors of recovery have been much poorer and much slower to move forward.

On big needs that still need to be addressed:

I think one of the other big needs is certainly the issue of housing. Immediately after the earthquake, some estimates said that there were 1.2 or 1.4 million people just living on the street under tarps. And many of those people have now kind of disappeared from the streets. There's about 85,000 people still registered to be living in tents or under tarps. But even the people who appear to have been relocated or housed, many of them are in really tenuous situations financially.

This segment aired on January 12, 2015.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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