Another Voice: Haiti's fragility reminds us of our interdependence – Buffalo News

Haiti’s 2010 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas. Mainstream media flashed images of lifeless children in school uniforms stacked in pickup trucks, sites of leveled homes and displaced villagers. News accounts reported victims’ emergency amputations performed with crude materials. Many of us witnessed real-time pleas on social media to rescue friends last heard from through digital messaging while buried in cinderblock ruble under neighborhood landmarks. Messages continued until oxygen or cellphone power waned.
January 2020 was noteworthy for the first confirmed Covid-19 case identified in the U.S., in Washington State on Jan. 21. More than 50 variants of concern have emerged since. We’ve endured this pandemic as an ongoing reminder of our vulnerabilities in an insecure, changing environment. We’ve felt disruption, loss, grief. We suffer pandemic stress. Yet different countries and communities face disparate impacts.
Haiti represents a hungry and abandoned global South. From 2000-2019, along with the hemisphere’s highest population density and the second-largest global food-deficit per-capita, the World Food Program ranked Haiti as third among countries most affected by extreme weather events. Alas, another catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti on Aug. 14, 2021.
While Haiti is exceptional, our precipitous risk of disasters is now commonplace – Haiti embodies the perils of our overexploited future planet. Tropical storms in the Caribbean are like forest fires throughout the Western U.S. Haiti’s deforested mountains make prime conditions for deleterious flooding. Accelerated loss of natural habitat leaves animals living in close proximities to humans, reinforcing cycles of re-emerging infectious disease spillover events like SARS-CoV-2.
The challenges brought on by Covid-19 constrain resources for routine public health surveillance, causing delay to identify and respond to environmental and chronic health threats. And, despite the essential role disease investigators play in uncovering new infections, state legislatures are limiting measures to control disease outbreaks, escalating the stress of personal attacks on health officials, driving scores to resign.
Negotiating this new normal means investing in systems to mitigate predictable threats by preparing for extreme weather events, improving health screenings for treatable conditions, including person-focused approaches to suicide and opioid overdose prevention.
Truly getting through this pandemic requires administering global immunization campaigns for countries like Haiti that haven’t received initial Covid-19 vaccination shipments. Finally, it means bolstering the population health of poor nations to protect our security too, as new pathogens emerge and spread across borders.
Jason Feldman, a Buffalo native and former Peace Corps volunteer in Haiti, is a public health professional in Washington State.
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