Three years later, dentists rebuild in Haiti
Three years ago: Port-au-Prince, Haiti (top) was devastated by the January 2010 earthquake, which killed or injured hundreds of thousands of residents and left 1.5 million homeless.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti—Three years after a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the infrastructure of Haiti's largest city—including its dental offices—nine dentists are rebuilding their practices and their lives with help from their American colleagues and the ADA fundraising effort Adopt-a-Practice: Rebuilding Dental Offices in Haiti.
In response to the disaster, the ADA and HVO launched a fundraising campaign in July 2010 to help Haitian dentists affected by the earthquake rebuild their practices. Adopt-a-Practice: Rebuilding Dental Offices in Haiti raised $123,578.76 in donations from dentists and contributors worldwide.
"You have to have lost it all and see no way out to appreciate the generosity and companionship I received to their fullest from the ADA and Health Volunteers Overseas," said Dr. Vadna Georges, a dentist in Port-au-Prince. "I received new equipment on Dec. 24, 2011 and receiving it on Christmas Eve made it so special."
According to the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella organization for more than a dozen humanitarian aid agencies that respond to disasters, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake affected 3.5 million people. Some 220,000 died and more than 300,000 were injured. More than 188,000 homes were damaged and more than 105,000 destroyed, leaving 1.5 million people homeless. More than half of Port-au-Prince's schools, government and administrative buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Nearly a third of the city's dental practices—35 offices—were also damaged or destroyed. Just weeks after the earthquake Dr. Samuel Prophete, then president of the Haiti Dental Association, visited ADA Headquarters in Chicago to discuss how the disaster affected both dentists and patients in his country.
"When I visited ADA Headquarters in 2010 asking for help," said Dr. Prophete, "I remember saying that helping the dentists in Haiti will have two positive effects: young dentists affected by the earthquake will have a reason to stay instead of leaving the country; and senior dentists who face unplanned and early retirement will also have a reason to stay active in the country rather than leave. Thanks to the ADA/HVO project all the beneficiaries of the program are in Haiti, practicing, making a difference and looking to their future with more confidence and serenity."
New equipment, new outlook: Dr. Samuel Prophete, dean of the Faculté d’Odontologie of the Universite d’etat d’Haiti, meets with Mireille Boulos from Prodentos, the local distributor from which the ADA/HVO campaign purchased new dental equipment for nine Hatian dentists.
Seven dentists have already received new dental office equipment and two more dentists will receive equipment in the coming weeks.
Funds from the campaign also supported the installation of 19 dental chairs at the Faculté d'Odontologie of the Universite d'etat d'Haiti that were donated by the New York University College of Dentistry. Now dean of the dental school, Dr. Prophete said the donation and installation of the 19 dental chairs replaced nonfunctional equipment and also helped increase the institution's capacity for both students and patients.
Aftermath: The dental office of Dr. Vadna Georges was destroyed in the earthquake.
"In cooperation with the Haitian Dental Association and HVO, the ADA Division of Global Affairs International Development Subcommittee began to reach out to assist our Haitian dental colleagues," said Dr. Jack Levine, subcommittee member. "Since we had little control over mortar and brick parts of the renovation, the intent was to provide dental equipment to build a one-room office. This would allow dentists to return to work, continue to care for the patients of Haiti and give back to their community. The IDS worked for a long time to secure the new equipment from a local distributor and were able to choose several applicants to receive this award."
One of the requirements of the dentists who receive assistance was for them to commit to give back to their community and "pay it forward."
Before the earthquake, Dr. Georges said she had opened her dental practice using her savings and money she received from her family, and after the earthquake destroyed it, she wondered if she would ever be able to return to practice.
"Here in Haiti, you do not have easy access to credit for the funds needed to open a practice and dental practices cost a lot," she said. "In the aftermath of the earthquake and loss of my practice, for a brief moment I felt depressed and did not see how I was going to be able to recover with having no insurance to cover the loss and no funds available to rebuild," said Dr. Georges. "There was also a great need for dental care which the humanitarian aid did not fully assess in that time. People were fleeing the country, many have suffered great losses, we did not see hope for a brief moment and I thought of giving up dental practice."
Dr. Georges said her religious faith and the generosity of a colleague who gave her space in his office to see her patients kept her from abandoning her profession and her patients who were in need.
"Leaving Haiti was not an option for me," she said. "I was needed in my country and by my family. I always had a very sharp sense of the importance of community work. After the earthquake there was great demand and very little charitable work offered."
Dr. Georges said since she finished dental school 10 years ago, 60 percent of her classmates went to the U.S. or Canada but very few of them were able to become licensed to practice. Of the dentists who remained in Haiti, more than half of them left the profession because they were unable to secure practice start-up loans. Another barrier, she added, is that established dentists don't traditionally mentor young colleagues and help them make the transition from dental school to practice.
"After the earthquake, I was thinking about getting a job in another field to have an income and hopefully manage to save and rebuild sometime in the future," she said.
"But our colleagues from abroad did not abandon us and they opened their hearts to respond to our loss and gave us the helping hand. And they generously gave us new, more efficient dental practices."
Other dentists who have received new dental equipment include: Drs. Louis Mary Fene, Lanoue Marjorie, Rene Jean Ramses, Eugenie Bruneau, Edgard Douge and Lyron Yves Rouslin. Drs. Gayoul Louima and Michel Lebrun will receive theirs within the next few weeks.
Dr. Georges said getting back to work with brand new equipment felt "amazingly good. I get much more work done and save myself a lot of back pain medication."
Working in her own office again and with new equipment, she added, gave her independence and allowed her to be more efficient in her practice.
"My patients were always very supportive in not letting me close down for good," she added. "It also made me be more community orientated, and I was able to bring basic community dental care to Passe Bois d'Orme in southeast Haiti, for the patients that can't afford dental care in a regular practice. It was a blessing and experiencing firsthand the joy of giving back to the community.
"I only wish that that kind of help and support can go to our young graduating dentists," she said. "I remember that we all had big dreams of installing our practices in this country, but many of us could not go all the way because of financial difficulty. Going from a class of 27 to only five fully practicing dentists after a decade is a sad statistic for our country."
"The fact that my office was not affected and I did not have to report major injuries or death losses in my immediate family and relatives makes me realize how blessed and lucky I was," said Dr. Prophete. "However, three years later, I'm still thinking that we are as vulnerable as we were when the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake struck us. Sadly enough, I often ask myself what have we learned from this tragic experience and what, as a society, have we done to reduce the vulnerability of the population should another natural disaster occur."
The ADA would like to thank all ADA members, national and international dental organizations, members of the public and the dental industry who contributed to this campaign. Without this support dentists like Dr. Georges would not have been able to rebuild their practices. For more information about the campaign for Haiti, contact the ADA Division of Global Affairs, Ext. 2726.