All-College Hour speaker critiques post-earthquake aid

Haitian-born Harvard professor Dr. Claire-Cecile Pierre spoke of her time reconstructing her birth country after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in the All-College Hour Speaker series on Wednesday Oct. 23. Pierre served as the chief medical resident and clinical director of quality informatics at the Cambridge Health Alliance. Pierre recounted her experiences following the traumatic events of the earthquake that left Haiti crumbling in its wake. The earthquake hit approximately 16 miles outside the capital Port-au-Prince, leaving over 200,000 people dead and over 300,000 people injured. Pierre said that her family was greatly affected by the earthquake, and she showed pictures of the personal impact of the earthquake on her life, including pictures of her collapsed apartment.

Along with Pierre’s apartment, the earthquake destroyed a substantial part of Haiti, including government buildings, hospitals, schools and commercial buildings. Thirty hospitals, three-quarters of the medical schools, the largest nursing school and the Ministry of Health were completely destroyed. Since Pierre’s primary focus is on health care improvement relief efforts, she sprang to action almost immediately after the earthquake affected her homeland.

Pierre described the extensive response period after the earthquake as emergency, recovery and reconstruction.

“The initial response was local,” she said. “When you watch CNN, you see the global response but never the local response. Neighbors pulling each other out … teachers coming to help.” She said that these firsthand experiences influenced her actions during each period of response, especially the current reconstruction period.

Pierre became a leader and advisor with the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which, she said, served “to bring technical assistance to the government in order to sort all of the offers that Haiti received after the earthquake in order to rebuild the country.”

“Regardless of the government’s political orientation, there will always be a need for health and education,” she said.

According to Pierre, 50 percent of American households donated to the Haiti earthquake. Most of the aid, however, was dedicated to humanitarian causes and could not be used for reconstruction.

“Now the government of Haiti is stuck, and the public sector is stuck,” she said. “We have people who want to help us but not in the areas where we absolutely need help.”

Pierre also spoke of her volunteering experience with Dr. Paul Farmer, an American physician and anthropologist whom she met at Harvard. She assisted him at the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti with former President Bill Clinton in 2009. In 2010, she joined Farmer in his relief efforts with the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

Today, Pierre is working on a teaching hospital in Haiti, which she started with Farmer when the Haitian government asked him to open a community hospital after the earthquake. After witnessing the recovery attempts after the earthquake, they realized that building a small hospital would not be enough.

Together, Pierre and Farmer led the planning and creation of a hospital that not only treats patients but also educates those who wish to pursue a career in the medical field. Treating over 700 patients per day, the hospital is a unique combination of education and health. It is helping to steadily increase the well-being of its patients as well as the number of medical professionals.

Pierre said that the challenges facing the hospital are great, but will pay off in the end, saying, “When I look at the hospital, I see reconstruction and hope.”