Welcome to the first blog post of the Emory Haiti Alliance’s trip to Puerto Rico! I know that it may be confusing to follow a blog post from Puerto Rico on the Emory Haiti Alliance page, so let me take a second to explain!
As you may know, the Emory Haiti Alliance has been committed to serving the people of Haiti for the past 10 years. Every year we bring a dedicated group of surgeons, anesthesiologists, scrub technicians, nurses, residents, and medical students to perform surgeries for the people of Haiti and give many of them the opportunity to gain a new lease on life. We spend countless weeks preparing for a four-week trip where we provide general surgery, urology, oral maxillofacial, and pediatric surgical care. At the end of our trip, we return back home and immediately prepare for the next year’s trip. As we prepared for the Haiti trip this year, we learned of the political unrest that began to unfold in the country. After many weeks of deliberation, we decided to forego the Haiti trip this year due to safety issues.
We were all very excited to return to Haiti this year and were disappointed when we came to our final decision. We could have decided to just entirely cancel any global health effort this year, but this team of fourth-year medical students isn’t like any you’ve seen before. Peyton Hanson and Amit Pujari, two of our trip leaders, led the charge this year to find another avenue to help. Luckily, we didn’t have to look far. Dr. Carla Haack, a general surgeon and one of the surgeons participating with the efforts of the Emory Haiti Alliance, suggested that we look into assisting her in Puerto Rico.
Dr. Haack was born in Atlanta, but is strongly tied to her Puerto Rican heritage. After Hurricane Maria, she was one of the first physicians to land in Puerto Rico to assist with the post-hurricane medical efforts. Since then, she has made countless trips to the most vulnerable regions of Puerto Rico, providing any assistance she can as the island recovers from such a powerful natural disaster. Along the way, she has developed strong ties with various non-profit organizations and other healthcare providers; additionally, she has also become intimately familiar with the people of Puerto Rico, and has made it her personal goal to give back to them.
So where do we come in?
This year, our goal is to assist Dr. Haack with her efforts in Puerto Rico. This will mainly include developing detailed surveys of the healthcare needs of different communities in Puerto Rico. We will work with different communities and discuss with the different citizens what sorts of medical care they need, such as wound care, blood glucose monitoring, and basic medication refills. After these surveys, we will go back to our base camp for the day and organize our supplies so we can make sure to meet the needs of the community. When we revisit these communities, we will come with supplies-in-hand and be prepared to efficiently provide care in the exact way that these members need it most.
Another large component of our trip is research and global education. As members of the Emory Haiti Alliance, we pride ourselves on developing our own global health acumen, while avoiding the trap of global “volun-tourism”. One of the main ways we combat this is developing research questions that we strive to answer during our time away from home. This year, it becomes especially important to pursue these research questions for two reasons. First, for many of us this is our first time in Puerto Rico, and we are not familiar with the culture and views on healthcare; thus, research provides education for us as we enter into this community, to ensure that we provide care while not violating any cultural norms. Secondly, after the physician shortage following Hurricane Maria, there has been a scarcity of reports outlining the health care needs of the community, both from a medical and surgical perspective. Our goal is to close this gap of knowledge by communicating with the people of Puerto Rico, non-profit organizations, and members of the hospital system, and to implement surveys that will elucidate the barriers to care that currently exist.
For the next two weeks, we will be updating this blog as frequently as possible. You’ll get to meet our medical student team (6 fourth-year medical students and 6 third-year medical students), see pictures, and hear some amazing stories as we travel through this beautiful island. I’m excited, and I hope you all are too. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the blog!
Stay tuned for the next blog, where we introduce ourselves a bit more and outline our first day coming into Puerto Rico!
- Ehab Nazzal, MS4