Friday, September 30, 2011

An Honest Look at the Aftermath of a Tragedy: Review of "Haiti After the Earthquake" by Dr. Paul Farmer

Dr. Paul Farmer, Partners in Health and its sister Haitian organization Zanmi Sante, have transformed health care delivery in rural Haiti. When the earthquake shook Haiti to its very foundations in January, 2010, Farmer and his colleagues were jolted out of the "comfort zone" that they had established in and around rural Cange, and were confronted with the need to respond to the overwhelming acute medical needs that the earthquake had created in urban Port-au-Prince. This book represents Dr. Farmer's reflections one year after the earth-shaking event. His thoughts are supplemented beautifully by colleagues who were impacted in their own way by the ramifications of the earthquake.

Farmer speaks authoritatively from a variety of perspective - as head of a successful NGO, as the Deputy to Bill Clinton in the UN's Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti, as a expert in public health and epidemiology. The book sheds light on many of the decisions and actions that were taken in the hours and days after the earthquake, and the ongoing struggle to respond to what Farmer call an "acute upon chronic crisis" in helping Haiti move from rescue and recover to "building back better." For those of us who love Haiti and its people, this is a "must read" book, for it chronicles with great detail the ways in which the Haitian government, the U.S. government, the international community and NGO's interact with each other. The author has strong opinions about how things should work going forward, so the book is both descriptive and prescriptive. One would expect nothing less from a physician than for him to sign his name to a prescription pad to help alleviate Haiti's suffering.

Like the history of Haiti itself, this memoir is a mixture of despair and hope. I recommend it highly for anyone who wants a glimpses behind the curtain of what is happening (and not yet happening) in re-building Haiti.

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