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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haitian Earthquake One year later

There will be a lot of press on the one year anniversary in the coming days. Below is posted an article that came out in the Towson Times. We would like to thank Loni Ingraham for her help in once again spending the time to listen carefully to what we say, and then picking up the important bits and condensing two hours of interview time into a coherent article.
Loni always goes to the heart of the matter at some point in the interview by asking, "What would you like people to do after they read this article? What would you like the reader to come away with?"
The first action is to keep Haiti in your thoughts, prayers, and donating money. International Medical Alliance is still feeding 500 orphaned children each day, and in February, we will be returning to do clinics that will see thousands of people in those two weeks. We will be giving out a six month supply of medication to the patients. That all requires funds.
Forget all the stories about how some aid is not spent, or spent poorly. I can assure you with total certainty that spends every penny you give where it is needed. Everyone who goes pays their own way and contributes so that that their experience is not paid for with much needed funds.
There are no paid staff or offices to support. The money you all donated just after the quake went from your hands to mine and then directly (many times even before it arrived in the mail) for food, diesel fuel and items that without all the medical care in the world, would not have kept people alive during those first crucial days.
What do we need from you? First, come join us in helping support the dental school in Haiti with your time and energy. We have regular conference calls every other Sunday night with personnel from the ADA's Global Outreach staff and dentists in the US, Canada, Haiti, and as far away as Germany.
Secondly, the school has almost nothing to teach with - no text books from this century. I know you have not touched that operative dentistry, etc. book on your shelf since sophomore year in dental school. So here is what you do - go buy a nice plant for that shelf - and bring your books and usable oral surgery instruments (you know the ones you will never use again since you bought those expensive

For Ritters, mission to help Haiti continues a year later

On anniversary of earthquake, couple planning next trip

By Loni Ingraham

(Enlarge) Towson residents Tom and Carol Ritter are shown in Haiti in this photo they posted on their blog, The Ritters have been to Haiti three times since the earthquake one year ago, and will return again in February. (Submitted photo)

One year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 300,000 people, there are still 1.5 million people living under blue tarps in or near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

"Money is hard to spend; you can't just go to the hardware store and buy drywall," said Dr. Tom Ritter, a dentist with a Ruxton practice. "There is no hardware store."

The need for help is as acute today as it was a year ago.

Currently, Haiti is threatened by an outbreak of cholera. The epidemic that began in October has been "a real eye-opener," said his wife, Dr. Carol Ritter, a Greater Baltimore Medical Center gynecologist and obstetrician.

The Ritters were among health care providers who came to the aid of the Haitian people soon after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, and have made two subsequent trips to Haiti. They are planning a fourth next month.

It is understandable that people who are providing aid to Haiti feel good about what they are doing -- and good about themselves.

"But it doesn't necessarily always help Haiti," Carol Ritter said. "And sometimes it does deadly harm."

Take the cholera outbreak, for instance. Testing has revealed the strain that produced the cholera was South Asian.

The consensus in the news is that U.N. troops introduced cholera to Haiti when Nepalese forces dumped sewage from outhouses at their base into the Artibonite River, from which some of the affected people drank.

Three thousand people have died, even though cholera is a preventable disease treated by simple, inexpensive means, such as rehydration salts and IV's, according to Tom Ritter.

As the earthquake anniversary is marked, the Ritters are focusing on individual projects as well as trying to raise money and supplies for Haiti.

Tom Ritter has been working with the dental school, trying to keep it open. Eighty percent of government buildings in Port-au-Prince were destroyed. The dental school was built to withstand earthquakes -- and two government departments have taken over parts of it.

"We want to keep it open so another part of the government won't conscript it," he said.

But the school has little; a small supply of outdated textbooks and virtually no tools for teaching.

"We are stepping up our efforts to keep it functioning," he said, noting he needs practical donations such as textbooks and basics such as forceps to remove teeth.

And money, always money.

Carol Ritter has been working on a Pap smear project. In Haiti, there is no pathology lab yet, so she goes off into the mountain and outlying areas and brings specimens back to Baltimore, where Dr. Shahla Moshiri has volunteered to run tests in the Cockeysville pathology lab she runs.

The tests are crucial. The human papillomavirus (HPV) virus that has been known to cause cancer is different in Haiti and not covered by the current vaccine.

"I see it in young Haitian women and it is so aggressive," she said. "I know it will cross the ocean some day."

Lessons learned in Haiti

The couple's trips to Haiti and their work with the Haitian people have left them with several impressions and observations. Carol's observations include:

* The people she works with are the Haitian middle class -- teachers, drivers, interpreters. There are not that many of them, she said.

* The women in Haiti keep the country going because they are caregivers to so many.

* Haitians are a religious people, and are primarily Catholic, she said. But when people are desperate and don't have access to medical care, they sometimes turn to individuals who call themselves priests, but practice voodoo.

"I don't claim to understand," she said. "I'm just aware of it every time we go down there."

Tom's observations:

* Groups have improved their ability to provide aid. The International Medical Alliance provides Haiti-centered aid, he said.

* Haiti needs money, not visitors -- unless they have special tasks to perform. The infrastructure can barely support the people who are there. Between U.N. forces, Catholic Relief Services and other organizations, the competition for housing is brutal.

* Costs have gone through the roof, he said. Airfare is easily twice what it used to be, translators charge twice what they used to and it would cost $300,000 to buy an apartment in Port-au-Prince -- and it wouldn't be a nice one, he said.

Haitians need money for water and for feeding kids -- just rice and beans.

Tom Ritter was pleasantly surprised when his staff told him one of his patients had made a donation for Haiti that she had left in an envelope for him.

He was shocked when he discovered it was for $10,000.

"That money will go a long way," he said.

Both Ritters are happy to report that the baby born by their Haitian interpreter, Natalie Amedee, at GBMC last January after a high- risk pregnancy, is doing very well.

"His name is Gaetan Thomas Amedee," Carol said. "He's a chubby little thing."

"We'll see him during our February trip," Tom said. "He doesn't like us because when we show up we give him injections."

The Ritters plan to continue their work in Haiti.

"You get up in the morning and do what you can and try not to make mistakes," Tom Ritter said. "You meet such beautiful people along the way. The Haitians are the most beautiful people I have ever met. They are very appreciative of everything we do."

Follow the Ritters through their blog,, and find out where how to make a donation.