By Garry Pierre-Pierre

When my cousin was doing her residency at a rural clinic in Haiti, one night a man knocked on her doors and wanted to talk to her. The man, a hougan, or Vodou priest, had a deal for her. He had noticed that many people infected with AIDS were coming to him for treatment.

The Vodou priest, knowing the seriousness of the situation wanted to refer his clients for medical care he knew they needed, not the spiritual healing they were looking for. There was something in it for her, he promised. He would share his fee with her. 

My cousin said she laughed calmly and told the priest that there was no need for a quid pro quo because she was there to treat patients in town as part of her medical education.

I’m sharing this anecdote because in Haiti doctors and health care officials are held in high esteem and are respected. This is so true today as the world is facing the Coronavirus pandemic that threatens to disrupt our lives in ways small and large. 

Haiti, already one of the most precarious states in the world, is now seeing a rapid surge on the  number of people infected with Coronavirus. Dr. William Pape, one of the leading infectious disease experts in Haiti told a group of his diaspora colleaguesearlier this month during a Zoom meeting  that he expected the pandemic to reach its peak in Haiti by July. He also added that the model for Haiti predicts that more than 400,000 people will have contracted the coronavirus. He didn’t say how many people might die. 

But if the coronavirus inflicts half of the damage it has done in the industrialized world from Asia to South America, we can brace ourselves that Haiti may face a crisis of biblical proportion.

That meeting was the impetus behind the May 17 benefit concert that The Haitian Medical Association Abroad asked The Haitian Times and many other organizations to unite and raise some money. A GoFundMe account was created.

By most metrics, the event was successful. It was livestreamed on Facebook and Youtube. So far the concert has been viewed more than 350,000 times and counting. It was also an amazing display of our music and it was a testament to our collective efforts.

We had set an aggressive goal to raise $500,000. Ninety percent will go to help Haiti and the 10 percent will be donated to help New York based community groups access resources for needy Haitian New Yorkers. While the situation in Haiti is expected to be grim, things haven’t been easy for our brothers and sisters in the New York metropolitan area. You can still donate. GoFundMe

Every day we hear and publish stories of people facing severe food insecurity, problems with mental health and homelessness. Most of the businesses in the community – barbershops, restaurants, multi-service establishments – have had to shutter their doors since the shelter in place was ordered by the area’s governors back in March. 

As of this writing, we’ve reached a little over 10% of our $500,000 goal. I thank those who have donated and urge those who haven’t to open up their wallet and their hearts. 

I think physicians and health care workers writ large shouldfollow the lead of the more active members of Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad. As soldiers on the frontline of this battle, they know very well the damages that this pandemic is inflicting on everyone. 

AMHE counts about 500 active members in its directory. There are hundreds more physicians who are not members. Let’s say that 600 health care workers were to donate between $500 to $1,000 each that would catapult us above our goal. This is not even considered an expense because the money is 100% tax deductible.

We’re not letting up because this is a monthlong campaign that will culminate on Sunday June 20 with another concert that we hope will surpass the quality of the May 17 event, which wasn’t too shabby, according to many comments on the Facebook chat room. 

I know that there are people who are leery of donating money to causes, particularly in Haiti where the government has a checkered record when it comes to these things. For more than two years, the country has been literally on “lockdown” as protesters take to the streets demanding accountability for the PetroCaribe funds. Under that program, a sweetheart deal from Venezuela, the Haitian government received low priced oil that it sells to local distributor at market price. That money has been fraught with questions about where it went. 

There have been too many grafts and outright thefts to mention in this article. So I do understand some people’s reluctance and cynicism. But this time it’s different. We’ve put in place auditing measures to ensure that money we have raised are used for intended purposes. Besides, we’re not going to donate money to the government. The money will be distributed to the Haitian Global Health Alliance, an organization co-headed by Dr. Pape. 

I’m calling on the healthcare professionals and physicians to trust themselves. You know that  your colleagues have sterling reputation and are respected widely. If a hougan knows to put his trust in my cousin to heal his servitors, I think you can trust each other and unite for this a once in a lifetime crisis. I’m counting on you. Please donate here. GoFundMe

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