In late February, having spoken to infectious disease specialists active in Haiti and other experts in emergency medical management, we realized the potential impact of HELP’s daily activities of congregating people in the HELP dorms, in university classrooms, and in HELP classrooms. To reduce the risk that HELP’s activities would serve to spread the disease, on March 4th we announced that we would be closing the HELP dorms as soon as the first case was confirmed in Haiti. That same day, former HELP student Dr. Emmanuel Belimaire MD, MPH and Professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at Haiti’s State University Medical School, gave an excellent presentation to staff and students on coronavirus and COVID-19.
On March 14th, having witnessed the spread of the virus globally, we announced that HELP would no longer wait for confirmed cases in Haiti and would be closing the dorms on the 17th. We also announced that the HELP Center would be closing by the 20th and that all staff who were able to, would work from home. At the time we made these decisions, the universities were still open and had no plans to close. However, we thought that it was only a matter of time before they did. On March 19th, Haitian President Moise announced the first confirmed cases in Haiti and ordered all schools and universities closed as of the 20th.
With the lack of health care infrastructure in Haiti, our primary goals have been to give the HELP community accurate information on the virus, reduce the chance of our staff and students getting infected, and minimize the chance that they would spread the virus if infected. Now, like most around the globe, we must wait and see what happens. Meanwhile we are assessing how we may be able to keep HELP students and staff productive in the weeks ahead. Haiti’s lack of electricty and poor internet quality make this a difficult proposition.
None of what we do at HELP, in relatively normal times, as well as in time of crisis, would be remotely possible without supporters like you. Our accomplishments, from the inspiring stories in this quarterly report, to being able to call on a former student, now a local expert in epidemiology, to provide information and guidance amidst a global pandemic, are exactly that, ours; our students’ and alumnis’, our staff and you, our supporters’.
Thank you and stay safe.