Coronavirus, Opinion

Haiti is in Grave Danger

By Jeffrey Tran and Christen Parker-Yarnal

Coronavirus travel rules NYC
Ticket agents wear protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic while helping travelers at LaGuardia Airport in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Haiti is in grave danger from the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19. Were the highly virulent strain to reach the island, that has thus far controlled the virus fairly well, a manageable situation could quickly become an uncontrolled disaster.

Following an initial spike, Haiti has experienced a notably low death count. We can hope that this continues. With the new variant, COVID-19 realizes an even greater capacity for non-linear propagation and can be seeded by a small number of initial contacts. The Haitian people face a new and formidable danger that deserves all of our attention. Though a strong and resourceful nation, it has faced devastating crises, including long-standing international discrimination. 

The recent detection of B.1.1.7 in rural Colorado, Florida and elsewhere in the United States suggests that community spread in the United States has likely reached large American cities, including Miami, a primary point for travel to and from Haiti.

Since the beginning of the global crisis this Spring, we have worked with long-standing local partners in the rural regions surrounding Les Cayes, a vibrant and verdant region in Southern Haiti. The region, like most of Haiti, is medically ill-equipped to deal with a meaningful surge in cases.
In the worst-case scenario, this new variant could tip Haiti from being a story of moderate pandemic success to one of terrible suffering. The window to act decisively in support of this nation is not weeks, but days. 

While unpopular, severely restricting or even suspending national and regional travel towards South Florida, and in turn toward Haiti, to the greatest extent possible, will reduce the spread of the new strain. Individuals travelling to South Florida or to Haiti must consider if it is absolutely essential to do so.  

Haitians and Americans who are in a position to influence national or local governments should do so to the extent of their abilities, most critically to advocate for anything to prevent the potential passage of B.1.1.7 through Miami International Airport and Ft. Lauderdale International Airport. 

Part of this restriction would mean athletic commissioners and university presidents absolutely must cancel or postpone events involving travel to or from the region. The NBA went to great lengths this summer publicizing the value of black lives; now is the time for action.

Regardless of nationality or position, we must act on behalf of others in ways which they themselves would respect. COVID-19 has brought this to the fore like no other crisis before – to treat the lives of others as if they were our own. 

If you are in the United States, please be attentive to the needs and voices of local Haitian communities in South Florida, New York, Boston, and elsewhere. Please be responsive to the goals of those such as the Haitian American Professional Coalition, which works to allocate public health services equitably, raise community awareness, and support the broader Haitian Community.

If you are in Haiti, please continue to educate yourself and those around you about the risks of the virus, and the potential of B.1.1.7 in particular to change the dynamics of its spread. 

For those who can give monetary support for Haiti, thank you, and please do so mindfully. The Haitian American Professional Coalition is a good start. Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders have incredible track records in international health, especially in Haiti. Smaller organizations such as MPM Haiti are driven by local Haitians and have effective grassroots impacts.

If you are reading this and are not yourself Haitian, please look to support those in Haiti who know their communities and can most effectively advise on what is most needed. Then, support them to the best of your abilities advocating as a good neighbor and global citizen committed to equity, justice, and humanity.

Haiti and Haitians are international treasures. We have a precious opportunity to partner in preventing a tragedy. It is our moral and human imperative that we should do so.

Jeffrey Tran is a global interest rate trader and studied complex adaptive systems at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University. Christen Parker-Yarnal is an educator in Miami, FL and Co-Founder of MPM Haiti. 

Feb. 05, 2021

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