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Saturday, November 25, 2017

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Student organization brings medical aid to people of Haiti


Friends of Haiti, a UH student organization, travels to the Caribbean country every year to provide its people with medical supplies. | Courtesy of Friends of Haiti

The UH organization Friends of Haiti, which aims to raise awareness about health care in Haiti and explore the country’s culture, spends the each school year planning for group of students to bring medical aid to the third largest country in the Caribbean.

“The club was created four years back, and a group went to Haiti on a medical mission,” said Friends of Haiti President and human nutrition and foods senior Likhitha “Kiki” Bodi. “We’ve continued to run this organization, recruiting students and providing them with great medical experience and at the same time providing care for Haiti.”

Initially inspired by the widespread devastation following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the organization strives to visit the country with medical professionals, supplies and students to set up mobile clinics in four to five of the lowest socioeconomic communities, Bodi said.

The earthquake demolished 50 health centers, part of Haiti’s teaching hospital and the Ministry of Health. Shortly after, the country experienced its first cholera outbreak in a century, which further disrupted the Haiti’s health care system, according to the U.S Agency for International Development.

According to USAID, Haiti faces several challenges, including:

  • A weak health care system: About 40 percent of the population lack access to essential health and nutrition services.
  • A funding environment: The government does not spend much on health. In fact, Haitian’s heavily depend on international funding to provide health care services.
  • Human resources: There is a gap in qualified health professionals and people, as few as six per 10,000.
  • Health infrastructure: It was a struggle before the 2010 earthquake and worsened after. There is a shortage in health care and storage facilities, access to electricity, clean water and sanitation systems.

Life-changing experiences

The trip to Haiti costs $1,800 and covers airfare, food, transportation and any other expenses during the course of their 10-day stay. Friends of Haiti usually brings between 15 and 20 students to Haiti, including pre-med students who are interested in gaining hands-on medical experience.

“When we started setting up the clinics, I guess I always assumed we would have a really nice facility, but we always had classrooms,” said biomedical sciences senior and FOH Associative Vice President Navya Kartha, who went to Haiti in 2015. “It was really cool to see people’s creativity when we only had a small room to put chairs and desks together to create a clinic.”

FOH External Vice President and biomedical sciences senior Joshua Chakranarayan said being able to interact with the kids was the most memorable part of his experience. He learned from Haitians’ humility and perspective, he said.

“Their attitude was so different and much more positive than ours — I think that’s what I took away from it,” Chakranarayan said. “Haiti is one of the worst-off countries in the Western Hemisphere financially (and) economically, but you wouldn’t understand that just by interacting with the people there, because they’re so positive and grateful. Once you go there, you want to keep on going back there because they’re so thankful for everything.”

Long-term help

In addition to changing the students’ lives, the organization’s trips to Haiti had strong impacts on the country, too, Bodi said.

Through the collection of medicines, vitamins and other miscellaneous supplies, Friends of Haiti was able to assist the country’s people beyond their visit.

“Our students are mostly interested in doing the clinical things,” Bodi said. “We get to shadow physicians, and this year we gave multivitamins to the patients. We gave them a six-month supply. The living conditions are really hard for them. It’s not like the United States, so we try to learn their culture and their way of living so that we can treat them medically.”

Friends of Haiti is currently planning its next trip.

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