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Walton Discusses Aftermath Of Haiti Quake


Now a snapshot of public health in Haiti two years after the earthquake.

I'm joined by Dr. David Walton of the non-profit group Partners in Health. He's directing the construction of a new hospital about 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince in Mirebalais.

Dr. Walton, welcome to the program.

DR. DAVID WALTON: Thank so much for having me.

BLOCK: Sounds like a big hospital that you're in the process of building; 320 beds, 180,000 square feet. What are your hopes for that hospital?

WALTON: Our hopes are actually quite ambitious. We really - with the construction of this hospital in the reconstruction phase of Haiti, we really hope to create a new paradigm for health care delivery in this country, particularly in the public sector where I think over the past few years, even pre-earthquake, health care delivery has been very difficult to find quality care and care that is reliable for the millions of people who can't afford private care.

BLOCK: When we talked to you on the program one year ago, on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, you said that your main feeling then was one of frustration about the very slow pace of progress that you saw. Are you still as frustrated now as you were then?

WALTON: I'm a little bit less frustrated. You know, the reconstruction efforts, again, have been mired with a myriad of difficulties. But I think that one year later - although I don't think any of us working in Haiti or even the Haitians themselves are satisfied with the progress. Certainly there are many instances of people working very hard and diligently, you know, to put this country back together and bring it to a place that hopefully will exceed even where it was pre-earthquake.

BLOCK: What can you tell us - we heard Jason Beaubien mention the cholera outbreak there in Haiti. What's the update on that? And are you seeing any signs of progress on that front?

WALTON: The cholera situation is still quite difficult. You know, it's not as apparent now because we're currently in the dry season. And the seasonal variation is such that with fewer rains, the transmission rate is much lower. So it's a bit faded from view. However, we fully expect that when the rainy seasons recur later this year, we'll see another large upsurge of the cases of cholera.

And again, this is the worst epidemic of cholera in the world today, with over 7,000 people perishing since the initiation of the outbreak.

BLOCK: If one way to prevent a cholera outbreak like the one you've seen is better sanitation, clean drinking water, are you seeing any progress on that since a year ago, say, one year after the earthquake? Are things better now than they were then?

WALTON: I think progress is limited, certainly, on that score. I mean, I think if you look at some of the areas - I mean, the problem with drinking water and sanitation is immense. You know, this is one of the most water-insecure nations in the hemisphere, and actually perhaps in the world. And the sanitation system is little to none here.

So, I think attacking that or really addressing that is a critical feature of prevention of transmission of this disease. But that is a very, very long process. There has been some incremental improvement in the last year. But certainly, I think most of us would agree that, you know, it's difficult to even measure how much progress has been made because the real numbers probably won't be even apparent, in terms of measuring the efficacy of those interventions, until many years down the road.

BLOCK: Dr. Walton, you've been working in Haiti for 14 years now. When you talk to the Haitians you've come to know very well over that time, what's their outlook? Are they hopeful? Are they discouraged, frustrated, despairing?

WALTON: You know, I would say it's a mixture of frustration and hope. Haiti is an incredible country and it's one of the, I think, one of the more interesting countries certainly in this hemisphere, in so far as the history of the country and such - what has happened over the last 200-plus years. And again, it's in a very, very difficult place on so many levels.

But the people with whom I speak to, the patients and other of my colleagues, remain optimistic. I think it's normal to be frustrated by the lack of progress and the promises that have been made and not yet kept. But I think there is an undying hope that for a better future, and looking at sort of the highlights of progress that have been made to demonstrate to them that, in fact, things will continue to get better.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Dr. David Walton. He is director of the Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital Project with the nonprofit group Partners in Health in Haiti.

Dr. Walton, thank you very much.

WALTON: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.