Dear Friends –
I’m writing our Annual Spring Appeal letter from Port au Prince, Haiti, a place of 3 million people, most of whom are quite poor by any international standard. In Cité Soleil, where Lamp for Haiti has its health center, a sprawling and dangerous ghetto, absent reliable clean water or electricity, the situation is even more stressed.
Consider some of these staggering facts: In the arena of healthcare, Haiti spends about 57 dollars per capita annually. In all the Americas the next lowest spending country, Nicaragua, commits over three times that amount per person, while the US rate is about $13,000 (data.worldbank.org — 2019). There are about 25 physicians per 100,000 persons in Haiti, compared to 278 in the US. Infant mortality in Haiti is 59 per 100,000 live births, compared to the US rate of 5 per 100,000.
Gangs today control large swaths of the capital, and surrounding areas too. There were over 1,200 reported kidnappings in Haiti last year alone, more than twice that of the previous year.
Given these hard to fathom numbers, aren’t further efforts in Haiti just pouring the proverbial water on sand? Isn’t that country too far gone? Oughtn’t we work in another place? It’s helpful to answer with a bit more data. In the past twenty years in Haiti…
-Adolescent fertility rates are down over 30%, a cause for optimism since delayed childbearing beyond adolescence is associated with more years in school, higher future earnings, and more stable households.
-Life expectancy has risen by almost five years, to 63. Still low, but progress nevertheless.
-The infant mortality rate mentioned above is actually decreased by over 25%, as numbers of “attended” births by skilled personnel increased from about 25% to nearly 68% of all births in Haiti.
-Overall age adjusted mortality rate in Haiti is down by over 20%.
I have no doubt that this progress has regressed in the past two years, given the overall state of affairs in Haiti. But progress can and has been made, even in places of extreme poverty. And while I personally believe that prayer helps, even St Augustine said that God will provide the wind, but we must raise the sails. In this case, the sails are an organized and integrated health system, with well trained committed staff, outfitted with the right equipment and medications.
To answer my own question, then, a resounding NO, we oughtn’t give up. Life is harsh, at times brutally challenging, in Haiti right now, most especially in Cité Soleil. But for 17 years Lamp for Haiti has not wavered. We remain committed to our mission to provide quality, well-discerned community development, based on the cornerstone of our work — effective healthcare. We will continue to treat the sick, to mend wounds, to feed the malnourished. We will continue to do so not just with kindness but with organized systems.
I hope that you’ll consider supporting our Spring drive this year. Working together, we’re saving lives. On behalf of our Board, staff, and of course our patients, thanks for choosing to stay a part of Lamp for Haiti.
My best to you and your family at this beautiful time of year.