01/25/2012 01:02 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2012

The Future For Haiti: Building Back Better

This blog is part 5 of a 5 part series on Partners in Health (PIH) and their work in Haiti. It was co-authored by Erin Thornton, the executive director of Every Mother Counts.

For our final blog on Haiti we wanted to focus on the future of this beautiful country that is full of untapped natural and human resources. And many readers may ask, what is the silver lining to Haiti's story?

We found many things to feel hopeful about during our visit. For one, the people of Haiti will soon have access to Mirebalais, a stunning 180,000 sq foot, state of the art teaching hospital with 320 beds and 6 operating rooms powered by 100 kilowatts of solar energy. The level of quality that will be attainable by all Haitians will not only address the country's many health challenges, it will also be a symbol to the rest of the world signaling that their lives do matter.

As global maternal health advocates, it always comes back to the mothers when we think of the future of a nation. So when a facility like Mirebalais puts mothers and children out in the very front of their facility, the country is sending a significant message -- they're saying that women and children are a priority here.

Positive as all this is, it won't solve every problem for Haiti, and most definitely not overnight. And while Haiti has long struggled under the burden of intractable poverty and ill health, there are new challenges to take on as well.

Less than a year after the devastating 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic broke out in the Lower Artibonite region of Haiti. Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that causes a large amount of watery diarrhea and occurs in places with poor sanitation, crowding, war, and famine. This epidemic is the world's largest in recent history. As of December 2011, there have been 515,699 total cases and 6,942 deaths.

It turns out that cholera is new to Haiti. It was inadvertently introduced by a group of UN peacekeepers stationed in central Haiti who had come from South Asia where it is endemic. Cholera is even more severe among populations who are immunologically naïve.

While the Haitian government, local, and international relief teams have reduced both incidence and case-fatalities across the country, rainy season is just around the corner and our colleagues at PIH suspect that we won't know for certain what the real status is until then. And so they continue to work -- to build a system of accompaniment, a system of outreach that can address the challenges of the day and those on the horizon. Here too, there is hope. A vaccine has been developed, and once the cold chain can support it, the two doses necessary could be available for as little as $1.50.

We returned from Haiti the evening before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and in contemplating the life and teachings of a great man so dedicated to service, social justice and equality, I came across this quote that I think applies to Haiti:

"The time is always right to do what is right."

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