Lending a Hand

GW plans to assist in Haiti’s long-term recovery efforts.

February 16, 2010

By Jennifer Price

It will take years for Haiti to recover from last month’s devastating earthquake, but GW plans to help the country heal.

Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs John F. Williams, M.D. ’79, Ed.D. ’96, is leading the university’s efforts at the request of President Steven Knapp, who has been in contact with Haiti’s First Lady Elisabeth Delatour Preval, a GW alumna, to find the best way for the university to help.

“What the government is interested in is having sustainable efforts by Haitians, not having non-governmental organizations run the country,” Dr. Williams says.

The university has been asked to provide assistance with relief efforts, and the GW Medical Center has a longstanding medical presence in Haiti on which to build. Since 2004, GW Medical Center’s International Medicine Programs has partnered with Project Medishare, a nonprofit organization that provides health care to Haitian people. Through the partnership, IMP has sent medical teams to clinics in central Haiti and has collected thousands of dollars worth of medications for the organization and local clinics. The GW teams, which have included physicians, medical students, public health students and emergency medical technicians, have cared for more than 5,000 Haitians. GW plans to continue partnering with Project Medishare in earthquake relief efforts.

According to Dr. Williams, GW will also work with Physicians for Peace, a nonprofit organization that provides free patient care around the world and trains health care professionals in developing countries. The organization has also taken on the responsibility of sending wheelchairs and prosthetic devices to survivors of the earthquake in Haiti.

“So many people had to have amputations,” Dr. Williams says. “In order to get some of these people extracted, they had to be amputated on the spot.”

Within 24 hours of the earthquake, GW had a presence on the ground.

Anthony MacIntyre and Bruno Petinaux, both physicians at George Washington’s Department of Emergency Medicine; Joseph Barbera, a professor of emergency medicine and engineering; and Scott Schermerhorn, B.S. ’07, a technician with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and a GW master’s student, traveled to Haiti as members of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team.

For the first three days, they worked through the night searching for anyone buried alive. Of the 134 rescues made by international teams, 47 were made by U.S. teams, according to the United States Agency for International Development. The Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team, which is made up of physicians, structural engineers and other emergency personnel, found 16 individuals.

A team of GW Medical Center faculty and administrators, including Joseph Reum, interim dean for the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, just returned from Haiti, where it surveyed current conditions and provided medical care. Dr. Williams expects to lead a second contingent in the coming weeks, which will include faculty from several areas of the university, including the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, as well as health sciences students.

Dr. Williams has also initiated the idea of hosting a “Haiti Day” this spring with the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. In addition to serving as a large fundraiser, the day would include lessons on Haiti’s history, current challenges and potential future. Elected officials may also participate.

“The universities are extremely enthusiastic about it,” says Dr. Williams.

These efforts would build on the response of George Washington students, faculty and staff in the wake of the tragic earthquake.

GW already raised $6,324 in Haiti donations when members of the GW community were invited to swipe their GWorld card on Jan. 22 and make a donation to Red Cross and Project Medishare. GW students have also organized a candlelight vigil, a letter writing event and several donation drives.

“The GW students have been amazing with their fundraising efforts,” says Dr. Williams.