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Valley doctor fears worst in Haiti



Published: Sat, January 16, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.

By Rick Rouan

A local retired cardiologist described the people of Haiti as living in ‘quiet despair.’

The lack of political stability and infrastructure in Haiti will make the earthquake that devastated the country “the worst human disaster in 200 years,” said a local doctor who tried to open medical clinics in the small island nation.

“There’s nowhere to go. There are no support mechanisms,” said Dr. Paul Wright, a retired cardiologist from Brookfield.

Two years ago, Dr. Wright was contacted by his alma mater, Notre Dame, to open medical clinics in Haiti. But, when he tried to import medical supplies for the clinics, the government’s customs agency stonewalled Dr. Wright’s efforts.

Dr. Wright said he contacted the Haitian ambassador in the U.S. for help, but even he could not get the medical supplies into Haiti without cost-prohibitive taxes and mandatory storage time before they would be released.

“Anybody who has ever made an effort to do any charitable missionary work has been fraught with disruption through the customs process,” said Dr. Wright, 60.

Through Notre Dame, Dr. Wright then tried to have clothing imported. The university collected 60,000 pounds of clothing, aided by a donation from the local Girard-Liberty Rotary, to be delivered by two C-130s from the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna.

But, again, Dr. Wright said he met resistance. Ultimately, he contacted the Rotary in the Dominican Republic and was able to get the clothing to Haiti’s island neighbor within days. About 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of the clothing eventually made its way into Haiti, Dr. Wright said, through refugee camps.

Because of his disenchantment with the Haitian government, Dr. Wright said he has done most of his charitable work in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, where he has helped open six medical clinics.

“You need the government to be receptive to those who want to help the poor,” he said. “They just don’t care about their people.”

Dr. Wright said he is waiting for more stability in the country before he goes in to help. By the start of February, he said he expects charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Missionaries of Charity to be set up and needing doctors.

People who choose to go into the country now, Dr. Wright said, are putting stress on an already fragile situation because they become one of the needy they seek to help.

In some pockets of the country, violent gangs rule, and volunteers are taking their lives into their own hands, Dr. Wright said. There, only charitable Catholic organizations are safe because such a large proportion of the country is Roman Catholic, he said.

Dr. Wright said that he hopes the international aid flowing to the country will lead to a more stable government. He suggested that the United Nations install a government and let the people elect leaders when it stabilizes.

“At least at this point, I don’t think the government will have much say in what’s coming in,” he said. “What existed here before was not adequate for humanity.”

Dr. Wright described the people of Haiti as living in “quiet despair.” Many people, he said, work for less than a dollar each day, and their homes are made of tin and cardboard because wood is imported and expensive.

One of the greatest potential problems is the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria and the parasites that cause elephantitis, he said.

A large portion of the country, including Port-au-Prince, is at sea level, where mosquitoes cultivate, and the cesspools that serve as the country’s sewage system will spill over, leading to widespread disease, he said.

All of those factors, Dr. Wright said, are a perfect storm for one of the largest human disasters in history.

“Before this happened they lived their life in despair,” Dr. Wright said. “There was little hope of employment or progress. Now you’re looking at people who are mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted.”

rrouan@vindy.com

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Haiti aid

Red Cross donations: Mahoning, Trumbull and North Columbiana chapters are accepting money donations. Send donations, earmarked for Haiti relief, to: Mahoning Chapter Red Cross, 8392 Tod Ave., Boardman, Ohio 44512, (330) 726-6063; Trumbull Chapter, 661 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren, Ohio 44483, (330) 392-2551; or North Columbiana County, 5843 Ohio 45, Lisbon, Ohio 44432-9396, (330) 424-6610. Visit www.redcross.org to make a donation.

Catholic Relief Services: The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown is accepting monetary donations to support the work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Haiti. CRS is the official overseas relief and development agency of U.S. Catholic bishops, which provides emergency assistance. Send donations, earmarked for Haitian Earthquake Fund, to Catholic Relief Services, in care of the Office of Social Action, Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, 144 W. Wood St., Youngstown, Ohio, 44503. For information, call Brian Corbin, diocesan director of CRS, at (330) 744-8451, ext. 320.

To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text Haiti to 90999. The amount will be added to your next phone bill. The organization is also accepting donations through its International Response Fund, www.redcross.org

To find out how to help the International Rescue Committee, visit www.theIRC.org or call toll free, (877) REFUGEE.

To donate through Oxfam’s emergency appeal, visit www.oxfam.org.uk

To Check the welfare of friends, relatives: People trying to locate U.S. citizens living or traveling in Haiti should contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at (888) 407-4747

or (202) 647-5225.


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