Haiti aftermath: AAD training, aid sites destroyed

March 2, 2010

National report - The 7.3 earthquake that decimated Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince in January also leveled sites where U.S. dermatologists have been focusing training and aid efforts since 2003, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

National report

- The 7.3 earthquake that decimated Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince in January also leveled sites where U.S. dermatologists have been focusing training and aid efforts since 2003, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The academy plans to provide direct support when the country regains some stability, according to President David M. Pariser, M.D. He encourages dermatologists to help, in the meantime, by donating money to credible relief agencies.

Meanwhile, an academy member with long-time ties to Haiti says it’s important that the world not forget the massive rebuilding efforts needed there after media coverage moves on.

“Haiti is a country that has been undergoing ongoing tragedies, in terms of political upheaval and economic and political instability and poverty,” says Alix Charles, M.D., of Hinsdale, Ill., whose parents are Haitian-born.

“Rebuilding a country from a medical or any other standpoint is a long-term mission,” he says. “Haiti is a country is right in our own back yard, with ties to U.S.”

There will be a long-term need in Haiti for dermatologists, he says.

Sites destroyed

The AAD notified academy members in late January that sites where dermatologists had been working since 2003 had been wiped out by the quake.

But Dr. Pariser assured members in a Jan. 28 letter that academy members can assist through the acute phase of the earthquake cleanup by donating to international relief agencies. He said the AAD hopes to resume onsite work in Haiti once the country becomes more stable.

The academy has been sponsoring volunteer trips to Haiti for three of its members since 2003. In their more than 10 trips to Leogane, Haiti (near the quake’s epicenter), Dr. Charles and James Ertle, M.D., also of Hinsdale, Ill., and Jim Nordlund, M.D., of Mason, Ohio, had gained enough local trust and cooperation to build the foundation of a dermatologic education program for local medical students, doctors and nurses.

They also had spearheaded the launch of a dermatologic pharmacy at Cardinal Leger hospital.

Years of hard work

In January 2008, in the AAD’s Dermatology World publication, the academy noted that members had made great strides in the developing country, despite corruption, language and cultural divides, and a “wariness toward foreign doctors.”

AAD team members quickly realized the need for dermatologic drugs to treat common and severe skin ailments. The process took years, but they located a pharmacist from Canada, Diane Lamarre, president of the Canadian Chapter of Pharmacists Without Borders, who set up a pharmacy in Haiti, according to the article.

In early 2005, the AAD arranged for pharmacy supplies to be shipped to Haiti. The supplies arrived, however, in February, on the day that former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown.

Violence ensued, and it wasn’t until nine months later that dermatologist colleagues would find the supplies. They then coordinated the building of the pharmacy near Cardinal Leger Hospital, giving Ms. Lamarre what she needed to teach Haitian pharmacists how to compound simple generic pharmaceuticals for dermatology.

The locals, according to the article, warmed to the French-speaking Lamarre.

Dermatologists were doing other important things in the country. These, too, would unravel with the earthquake. In 2008 and ’09, the academy asked members to donate used microscopes, so that dermatologists could train healthcare workers in diagnosing and treating skin disease.

The resulting 14 donated microscopes, valued at more than $14,000, landed at Cardinal Leger hospital and a local nursing school. The dean of the nursing school, according to a May 2009 article in Dermatology World, was using them to teach students microbiology, parasitology and other disciplines.

Drs. Charles, Ertle and Nordlund had plans in early 2010 to stay at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince to teach fourth-year medical students at Université D’Etat D’Haïti. Ironically, it was not the earthquake that sidetracked that trip, but rather a student strike.

Dr. Pariser wrote in the AAD’s January letter that the Cardinal Leger hospital and pharmacy had both been destroyed.

“We had hoped to be able to directly assist our colleagues in the hospital and pharmacy in which we were working and were patiently waiting to hear from them before communicating with you,” the letter stated. “However, the people with whom we worked and those institutions are just trying to get their basic needs met and are not ready to handle direct support just yet.”

With immediate aid to Cardinal Leger hospital on hold, according to Dr. Pariser, academy members and industry are helping in other ways.

Aid for now

AAD member Kenneth J. Galeckas, M.D., a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, deployed for Haiti with the Navy’s hospital ship USS Comfort. His mission, according to Dr. Pariser, is to help provide medical care in the country.

The academy asked industry to provide sunscreen for U.S. troops and relief workers in Haiti, and La Roche-Posay Laboratoire Pharmaceutique answered in a big way. The company has shipped more than 23,000 tubes of water-resistant SPF 15 broad-spectrum sunscreen to Haiti, according to Gene Colón, assistant vice president of medical and media relations, La Roche-Posay.

The sunscreen donation is worth nearly $700,000, according to Colón.

“La Roche-Posay Laboratoire is known worldwide as a leader in terms of UV protection and specifically strong UVA protection … and [so we responded when] the AAD reached out to industry to help in that regard,” Colón said.

Dr. Pariser recommends that, for now, dermatologists help earthquake-stricken Haitians by donating money to credible agencies that are delivering services. “A list of such organizations is available through InterAction (www.interaction.org/article/interaction-members-respond-earthquake-haiti), or you can make a contribution through Global Impact’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund (www.charity.org) and the funds will be given to agencies providing assistance,” Dr. Pariser wrote. DT