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Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health Haiti Response

Our hearts go out to the people affected by the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, in Haiti. Given the massive scope of the destruction and the widespread poverty preceding the earthquake, this situation will be protracted. One of the largest humanitarian response efforts in recent history is underway; the immediate response must continue, and longer-term approaches for recovery and rebuilding must be developed.

For nearly four decades, the Heilbrunn Department of Population & Family Health (HDPFH) has partnered with international relief organizations.  Since the inception of the Program on Forced Migration in 1998, the Department has trained public health professionals to respond to complex emergencies.

HDPFH has been actively and collaboratively engaged in Haiti for some time, and pledges the best practices of our field to the public health challenges Haiti will face in its rebuilding. It is our fervent wish that the humanitarian response – both immediate and longer term – will integrate a human rights perspective and promote the greater social goals of human well-being, equality, and freedom.

The HDPFH Community in Haiti

Currently in Haiti, HDPFH students, faculty, alumni, and associates are working in emergency response efforts.  Many more are collaborating with on-the-ground organizations here in New York City.

Inter-Agency Working Group

The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health is a member of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis Situations, which has compiled resources for immediate and longer-term responders in Haiti. These tools can help them provide much-needed reproductive health services to the women and men of Haiti.

Columbia University International Emergency Medicine Fellowship Program

Six HDPFH current students or graduates were in Haiti immediately following the earthquake as part of the International Emergency Medicine Fellowship (IEMF) Program, deployed with International Medical Corps (IMC). Specifically, they were:

  • Conducting initial needs assessments and determining areas of assistance
  • Identifying prevalent epidemic diseases and setting up strategies for action
  • Training and support community health workers and staff on primary health care, health promotion, and maternal and child health activities
  • Examining, diagnosing, and treating patients in an outpatient clinic, and
  • Anticipating changing needs in the face of this emergency.


Forced Migration Program

In addition to the IEMF fellows, a number of students and recent alumni are in Haiti as first responders affiliated with Americares, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Merlin, Partners in Health, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

Faculty members are actively advising UNICEF's program efforts in the area of child protection, with significant focus on children who have lost parents, are disabled, and who have experienced significant trauma. Faculty is working with UNICEF to evaluate the extent to which agencies are able to both protect children who are especially vulnerable, and also use the world's philanthropic generosity to build stronger protection systems for all children moving forward. Faculty members are advising the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in these same areas.

The RAISE Initiative

The Reproductive Access, Information, and Services in Emergencies (RAISE) Initiative works to ensure that reproductive health (RH) is incorporated into humanitarian action at all stages of emergency response and rebuilding.
Risks to RH dramatically increase in emergencies, and women and girls are especially vulnerable. These risks include:

  • Increased maternal death and injury due to common complications of pregnancy and childbirth
  • Lack of coordinated clinical response to rape and other forms of gender-based violence
  • Increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections due to lack of condoms, the absence of enforced universal precautions, and contaminated blood and blood products, and
  • Unsafe abortions due to unplanned and unintended pregnancies.

In the immediate crisis, the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for Reproductive Health can meet acute RH needs and lay the groundwork for longer-term comprehensive RH services. As a protocol that can be incorporated into all other emergency response protocols, the MISP is designed to prevent and respond to sexual violence; prevent excess newborn and maternal death; reduce HIV transmission; and plan for comprehensive RH services.

RAISE partners the American Refugee Committee (ARC), CARE, IRC, and Save the Children are already active in the relief effort in Haiti, and will continue to provide on-the-ground assistance through the rebuilding stages of this crisis.

The Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program

The Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program (AMDD) is a leading expert in the field of in-country emergency obstetric and newborn care needs assessment. AMDD recently completed a needs assessment in Haiti, using the most current data available, with telling results: Even before the earthquake, a pregnant woman in Haiti faced intense challenges in getting care in the event of a complication. Only 10% of hospitals were able to provide comprehensive care for women and infants during delivery.

Of the 120 facilities visited during the AMDD needs assessment, many were located in Port-au-Prince, near the epicenter of the quake. It is expected that all of these facilities have experienced catastrophic loss – in terms of human life (including staff and patients), supplies and equipment, and basic infrastructure. This is a terrible blow to the already fragile state of maternal and newborn health care available in Haiti.

AMDD is currently exploring ways in which to address this critical human rights issue during the rebuilding process, and to provide timely, life-saving care for the women and newborns of Haiti.

Students for Ayiti

This student group is dedicated to encouraging students to aid in the relief efforts in Haiti and effecting change for the survivors. The group has compiled a list of local New York City fundraising and educational events to benefit Haiti as well as a partial list of reputable relief organizations for those interested in donating.

For More Information

For additional information on other organizations working in Haiti, background data, and regular updates, visit:

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO Regional Office for the Americas
Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium
WHO Health Action in Crises


How You Can Help

The suffering in Haiti will continue long after the news updates cease and the front page stories disappear. Haitians and their partners will be working through the problems wrought by the earthquake for years to come, and our collective public health response must reflect not only an immediate but a long-term commitment.

These HDPFH partner organizations are already active on the ground, and will be active throughout the recovery effort:

American Refugee Committee (ARC)
International Medical Corps (IMC)

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Save the Children

Many other excellent organizations are also aiding in the relief effort in Haiti. The needs of the people, as well as those of the relief organizations on the ground, will evolve daily as the situation develops. Please check news organizations, as well as the PAHO/WHO sites, regularly for the most recent updates.