Friday, March 1, 2013

Collaborating in a crisis


MOVIE STAR AT THE MUSEUM: Actor Sean Penn, at left, tours the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation following an MGH Center for Global Health event. With Penn are Bangsberg, Keen and trauma surgeon Susan Briggs, MD, MPH, director of the International Trauma and Disaster Institute.

When disaster strikes, chaos often follows. In the days, weeks, months and years after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the MGH mobilized teams of first responders to help ease the suffering of the Haitian people and establish longer-term collaborations aimed at improving public health and combating rampant diseases like cholera. Also playing a vital role in the initial response in-country was the U.S. military, which deployed the hospital ship USNS Comfort as well as thousands of troops. On Feb. 25, the MGH Center for Global Health welcomed U.S. Army Lt. General P.K. Keen to discuss his command of the U.S. military’s relief efforts in Haiti as part of “Development and Defense: The Role of the U.S. Military in Global Health,” a seminar and panel discussion.

Keen outlined the military’s initial priorities, which included opening the country’s critical entry points. “We recognized the lifeline for assistance was the airport and seaport, which both were damaged but not to the point where we could not repair them,” he said. “We flew in special operations airmen, who would otherwise be going into other countries to open airfields for combat operations. In this case we brought them in, and within 26 hours, they set up a card table between the runway and the taxiway and they operated off that card table for three weeks.”

Keen said the use of military training and expertise was a key way to support relief organizations already working in the country. “The mission was very simple. We were there to save lives and mitigate the suffering of the Haitian people,” he said. “What I learned from my experience there was that the muscle of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are NGOs (non-governmental organizations) because the only way we can help the Haitian people is with unity of effort.”


GLOBAL REACH: From left, Boyce, Bourdeaux, Cranmer, Keen and Bangsberg

Joining Keen for the presentation and panel discussion were moderator David Bangsberg, MD, MPH, director of the MGH Center for Global Health; Hilarie Cranmer, MD, MPH, director of center’s disaster response program; Ross Boyce, MD, a Global Primary Care Program medical resident and former Army captain; and Margaret Bourdeaux, MD, of the division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Bangsberg also acknowledged a special guest audience member, actor Sean Penn, founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, which is dedicated to saving lives and bringing sustainable programs to the Haitian people.

Following the discussion, the panelists, along with Penn, enjoyed a tour of the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation and a reception.

Read more articles from the 02/01/13 Hotline issue.

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