I recently returned from a visit to Haiti. As it recovers from last year’s earthquake, the nation continues to face immense challenges — as it has throughout its difficult history. There is much more work to do there in all sectors, including health. Yet I am encouraged by the resilience of the people, and proud of the difference that America’s partnership with Haiti is making.
A high point of this visit was spending time with Haiti’s new First Lady, Sophia Martelly. President Michel Martelly took office in May, and the First Lady conveyed the President’s determination to improve the government’s capacity to deliver health care. In all cases, strong political leadership is essential to build strong health systems. I see this high-level commitment from Haiti’s new leadership as a positive sign.
Investments through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have served as an indispensable foundation for the health sector response over the last 18 months. Since 2004, PEPFAR has established effective HIV/AIDS programs throughout Haiti, and these not only continued to function after the earthquake, but also served as a basis for the U.S. response. In light of the weakness of the public health sector, PEPFAR-supported sites made a vital contribution to saving lives from an array of health threats. In addition, when cholera broke out in late 2010, the service sites, laboratories, and commodities provided by PEPFAR were, in many cases, the difference between life and death.
Going forward, America will continue to strengthen our partnership with Haiti on health. U.S. health activities in Haiti are an example of President Obama’s Global Health Initiative in action. PEPFAR’s HIV/AIDS investments provide a platform for U.S. health programs implemented by USAID and CDC and other agencies to support the Haitian government in enabling access to health care for its citizens.
In this work, we are prioritizing health systems strengthening and infrastructure, seeking ultimately to move from providing health services directly to supporting the Haitian health system to meet the population’s needs.
The needs in Haiti remain great. Yet our partnership is strong, and we will continue to stand with the people of Haiti as we move together toward a hopeful future.