Views & Reviews Personal View

Haiti: the emergency is over

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 25 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4504
  1. Nick Rose, psychiatrist, Oxford
  1. nick.rose276{at}

    Six months after the earthquake in Haiti the bar at the Plaza Hotel on the Place des Héros de l’Independence near the collapsed Palais National in Port-au-Prince is again packed with journalists and photographers. It is a media constructed anniversary. This time round the journalists’ checklist includes questions about the unintended damage caused by aid, the stuckness and growing dependency of a million internally displaced people still under canvas, and the slow rate of progress of just about everything. Meanwhile an unremarked watershed has slipped by, symbolised for me by two recent events.

    The first was the reopening of the national school of nursing. As a mental health specialist, I was asked to give a seminar to nursing students on their return to studies. Eighty one second year students had died when their teaching block collapsed. The seminar took place in a large marquee erected on the flattened rubble where their classmates had died. I brought a generator to power the fans and projector in what were unbearably hot conditions. The director of education, Madame Nazaire, watched protectively from nearby. Before me sat more than 100 young women, immaculately dressed in starched white and dark blue uniforms. Yet I knew that most still lived in tents. I had also learnt from Madame Nazaire that many had lost family members as well as classmates. Up to that point the meaning of what was happening was poignant but not emotional.

    Then, quite spontaneously, the girls started to sing. It was a hymn sung in unspoken memory of those not there and a reminder that the notion of “family” in Haiti includes not just the living but also the dead and those yet to be born. For …

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