Medical Director Musings: Haiti

Hi. I am Dr. Fox and I am the medical director for GR3. I am starting a new blog for our site called Medical Director Musings (MDM for short not to be confused with MDMA which will give you a completely different search result!) I was planning on writing this in a few days from our site on Gonave Island in Haiti but logistical and political events have caused this trip to be postponed so I am writing this from the comfort of my own home, with peace in the streets, a solid roof over my head, food in the fridge, clean water out of my faucets and climate control providing my comfort at 73 degrees.
So, why did we cancel our trip? Apparently, neither safety nor transportation can be guaranteed. There are ongoing riots in the streets not only in Port Au Prince but also in the outlying areas. A large riot is anticipated tomorrow and inside reports suggest that it will be violent. In addition there is no fuel. Our contacts in Port Au Prince have no gasoline in their cars and there is a Mad Max like search for what little there is. The US State Department has not updated their travel advisory (Level 3 Reconsider Travel) since June of this year but if events transpire tomorrow as expected this could certainly change to Level 4 (Do Not Travel.)
But it is not as simple as just safety and transportation when deciding upon the feasibility of a mission. Every organization has a different approach to this issue that is every group has a different risk threshold. Many, perhaps most, Mission trips are scheduled in safe venues, perhaps Costa Rica or a similar country where the need is there but there is no risk. And perhaps some zip-lining and natural hot water bathing can be thrown in. On the other extreme are a couple organizations that seemingly will go anywhere anytime they see the need regardless of risk. In fact you may remember reading about 3 aid workers with Doctors Without Borders violently killed in the Central African Republic in 2014. GR3 takes a more temperate approach. While every trip incurs some risk to participants we are not willing to take unnecessary risk with our volunteers. So far we have been able to help all over the world without losing a single volunteer. But, we are unwilling to cherry pick our destinations based upon absolute safety and zip-lining.
Further, it is not so simple as just saying one organization’s risk tolerance is higher or lower than another’s. Each trip we plan has its own risk tolerance. For instance, with this trip we are going to set up a clinic and offer patients of the Island of Gonave medical care for chronic conditions, care they would otherwise not have access to. While an administrative (and sometimes personal) nightmare, the trip can relatively easily be rescheduled for a safer day with little harm to the population. The risk tolerance for this trip should therefore be close to zero. On the other hand, after the earthquake in 2010, we went into Haiti during an acute need despite much higher risks than those posed today. In fact, if you ask him, I imagine David Canther may reluctantly (hah!) tell you of the time he was coordinating a load of supplies and was highjacked by a band of locals with impressive weaponry. David was able to reach some contacts and within minutes apparently (I was not there) American jets were flying overhead. While not an I love the smell of napalm in the morning moment, all our people and all our supplies made it through the incident. I point this out only to identify the other important variable in this safety equation that of need. Risk and need (much like the risks and benefit consideration in medicine) must always be considered together and must be balanced.
Writing to you from the comfort and safety of my home, I have to admit to some disappointment. I was looking forward to this trip. Not because it is fun or comfortable or relaxing but because these trips, where we are helping others and dedicating ourselves to others puts me in touch with a part of myself that the day to day life of making a living cannot. This probably sounds awful and I hope it is not taken the wrong way but I do not participate in these missions for the poor wretched people of the earth. I don’t participate to get closer to God. I participate for a purely selfish reason and that is that these trips bring me in touch with my soul. GR3, as an organization, has dedicated itself to helping the least fortunate of the world not to self-aggrandize or to raise money for a church or to feel better about ourselves. We organize these trips to help others because that is What We Do and it is Who We Are and we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves otherwise. That is why I am proud to be a member of GR3.
Over the next weeks months and hopefully years, I will be posting periodically about whatever is on my mind and will likely reflect the projects I am working on. Some you may find interesting some perhaps you may care less. But what you will get is my honesty about whatever I do write about. So check in often and please, once the blog is set up, post your own comments and questions. I will do my best to answer and keep up.
Shalom and Aloha to all.

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