Haiti: UN’s Paul Farmer Stresses Need to Build Systems that Break Cycles of Poverty
The World Bank
July 13, 2012
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United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti Paul Farmer reminded development experts and practitioners that poverty and disease are intimately linked and that fighting either requires systems and expertise that address both.
Speaking of efforts to build a better Haiti, he stressed the need to combat disease by recognizing systemic gaps that impede long-term solutions. Farmer noted, however, that this cannot be solely overcome by improved access to drugs and prevention programs. Addressing a forum on Haiti's recovery, he was joined by World Bank Staff and special guests, including World Bank President Jim Kim, regional vice president Hasan Tuluy and the Bank’s special envoy to Haiti, Alexandre Abrantes.
Farmer said he has helped lead efforts to rebuild, or in some cases fully build, public institutions to facilitate the delivery of primary healthcare. Those institutions are part of what he calls “integrated horizontal primary systems” that are charged not only with healthcare but also with developing the education and economic opportunities necessary to break the cycle of poverty and disease.
“That is what I think people in the Bank do,” he added, “improve systems at all levels to try to attack poverty,” Farmer said.
The Harvard professor, who co-founded Partners In Health (PIH) with World Bank President Jim Kim, said he fully identifies with the mission of the World Bank.
“I believe in the mission of ending extreme poverty,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen; I am an optimist,” Farmer noted.
President Kim, in turn, said that it was Farmer who first introduced him to Haiti and it was Haiti that “had a deep impact” on his motivation to help fight poverty. Kim also spoke of the inspiration to help fragile states finally move away from that condition.
“Let me suggest that we at the World Bank should make it a part of our collective consciousness that we move States out of being fragile and on the path to growth and prosperity,” Kim said.
Farmer has dedicated 30 years of his life to helping the people of Haiti. When the devastating earthquake hit the capital city of Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 and killed some 230,000 people, Farmer, the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, arrived just a few days later.
“I would love to say that we were prepared or that anyone was prepared,” Farmer said. But the magnitude of the devastation was unimaginable.
Since the earthquake, PIH has been involved in helping Haiti become better equipped. Thanks to the outpouring of support to PIH and in response to a request by the Haitian Ministry of Health, PIH has built a US$16-million teaching hospital in the town of Mirebalais, just a 45-minute drive from Port-au-Prince. It is the largest solar-powered hospital in the developing world, equipped with the first publicly available CT scanner in the country, and was built to California earthquake code.
Farmer acknowledged that much more remains to be done to make this project fully transformational in the long run, and speaking about the Bank's potential role he said: “You have something that we need. Help us build these systems so that we then can chart progress in all sectors,” from health and education, to finance and agriculture.
Vice-president Tuluy thanked Farmer for embodying a “combination of optimism, hard science, and heart.” He agreed with Farmer that creating lasting reconstruction in Haiti will continue to require partnership with and strengthening of the government and its institutions.