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Paul Farmer Examines Haiti 'After The Earthquake'

Dr. Paul Farmer currently overseas health projects in Russian, Rwanda, Lesotho, Haiti, Malawi and Peru.
Behna Gardner
Dr. Paul Farmer currently overseas health projects in Russian, Rwanda, Lesotho, Haiti, Malawi and Peru.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and causing widespread destruction. After the quake, 1.5 million people were left homeless. Today, as many as 800,000 people are still living in makeshift encampments, where security is lax and waterborne diseases like cholera have proliferated.

"It [was the] first big recrudescence of cholera in the Americas since the end of an epidemic that really swept through Peru and ended in 1993," says Dr. Paul Farmer. "If any country was a mine-shaft canary for the reintroduction of cholera, it was Haiti — and we knew it. And in retrospect, more should have been done to prepare for cholera ... which can spread like wildfire in Haiti. ... This was a big rebuke to all of us working in public health and health care in Haiti."

Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, is the founding director of Partners in Health, which provides medical services to the poor in many countries, including Haiti. He returned to Haiti on Jan. 15, 2010, along with a cadre of volunteers, to help with the recovery and relief efforts. In his new book Haiti After The Earthquake, Farmer details what it was like on the ground in the days after the earthquake — and why the country is still struggling to recover.

"One of the things we have to acknowledge is that if you look at Haiti, many billions of dollars have gone into development aid there that have not been effective," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "Some people talk about Haiti as being the graveyard of development projects. Our own experience has been very positive working in Haiti — building health facilities and working with the public sector and creating jobs — but [we are now thinking about] how we can now make these other, more ambitious projects also effective on the implementation front."

Paul Farmer is a University Professor of Harvard University and the chairman of Harvard Medical School's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. He lives in Rwanda with his family. He is also the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy in Haiti, where he works to improve the social and economic conditions of the country.

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