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Good Intentions in Haiti

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince, on January 14, 2010, following the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12. Two men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince, on January 14, 2010, following the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12. ((Photo by Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images))

Radio producer Amy Costello talks about her latest radio documentary on medical volunteers in Haiti, and her investigative series, Tiny Spark that explores the "business of doing good."

Guests:

Amy Costello

Comments [5]

amy costello

Thanks for your comments @JS. You're right that surgeons in Haiti who had prior experience working in international emergency medicine and international crisis zones would've have been less likely to use external fixation as a treatment for broken bones.

However, many medical volunteers who went to Haiti had never worked in international crisis zones before. This resulted in a number of problems in Haiti and infected external fixators was just one of them.

It's difficult to quantify how many broken bones were treated with casts versus how many were treated with fixation as there was very little data produced and/or publicly shared by medical volunteers in Haiti, as I report in my podcast. It's also impossible to assess the reasons why external fixation was used in Haiti. It could be that, as you suggest, it was always done to save life or limb. However, others who worked in Haiti say that external fixation was sometimes used when less invasive techniques would've been more appropriate.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to meaningfully assess the kind and quality of medical care delivered by volunteers in Haiti (and in many international crises that preceded it) due to a lack of data. That's why there is a need for medical professionals in crisis zones to generate more data and paperwork so that meaningful post-crisis evaluations can occur. It is one way that international medical responses can and will improve.

At the end of my podcast, I tried to evaluate whether more good was done in Haiti than harm. Some surgeons who worked there said surely more good was done. But others say it's impossible to assess due to the lack of data.

Respectfully,

Amy Costello

Nov. 13 2012 01:40 PM
JS

Ms. Costello's comments are irresponsible and demonstrate a significant lack of knowledge about the areas on which she speaks. I am an orthopaedic surgeon and several of my colleagues have worked in Haiti and around the world after natural and man-made disasters. External fixation is not used for every fracture or even the majority. Most broken bones in Haiti were in fact treated in casts. External fixation is a temporizing measure used when there is no other option. Most people who would have had this surgery would have either lost their limbs or their lives if not for this procedure. It takes a great deal of ignorance and lack of self awareness to claim to know the best treatment for an injury based on a series of informal observations and no training whatsoever.

Nov. 13 2012 11:09 AM
Janos from New York

Amy should be comparing relief efforts to Hurricane Katrina, another U.S.-based disaster, where volunteers continued in droves for almost a full year afterwards.

Nov. 13 2012 10:58 AM

so not ONE life was saved or helped by these people?
of course not i'd say lets go with every little bit helps.

Nov. 13 2012 10:54 AM
Carolyn from Bronx

Was there any mention/coverage of the Cuban delegations in this documentary - who have a LONG history of being almost always first on the ground in crisis situations (eg., Haiti, Pakistan, etc)?

Nov. 13 2012 10:51 AM

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