Dr. Ralph Ternier Talks From Haiti About Sandy and Cholera

700805main_20121026_Sandy-NPP_fullSandy passing west of Hispaniola. Photo: NASA Goddard

Hurricane Sandy did not hit Haiti directly. It passed to the west, crossing over Cuba. Even so, it dropped roughly 20 inches of rain on the southern part of the island, where decades of deforestation and erosion led to increasingly swollen rivers and flooding that devastated low-lying communities, destroyed crops, and caused more than 50 deaths—the highest number of fatalities in the Caribbean.

The country is still reeling from the 2010 earthquake. More than 350,000 people live in refugee camps that are little more than tents. The leading causes of death are HIV, tuberculosis, and cholera—a disease that came into the country with relief workers and has infected more than 600,000 and killed more than 7,500 people. Even before the quake, the per capita income was less than $2 a day.

Sandy damaged 18,000 homes. The U.N. estimates that the hurricane's effects, combined with a drought that hit the country earlier in the year, could leave more than two million people hungry. As a result, the Haitian government and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. have asked for $74 million in aid. “Whatever was left of a potential harvest is gone,” said Johan Peleman, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs . “Even the banana harvests seem to be gone.”

In addition, people in the flooded refugee camps and southern villages have been left more vulnerable to cholera, a waterborne disease. To find out what is happening on the ground, we called Dr. Ralph Ternier.

Ternier grew up in Haiti, and always wanted to be a doctor. He graduated with a medical degree from the State University Medical School in 2002, became the director of an HIV, tuberculosis, and STD clinic in 2003, and helped hundreds of Haitians return to their homes after the 2010 earthquake. Now he works as the director of community care and support for the health care non-profit, Zanmi Lasante/Partners In Health in Haiti, a position he views as destiny. “I always wanted also to work in public health. I never thought I would work in private,” he says. “I would say that I am in the right place and the right time.”

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