The current foreign aid and development approach to architecture and construction has been plagued by what we may call ‘short-termism’ – a common mantra of build cheap, build quick, and repeat. While short-term, emergency needs must be addressed adequately, we risk repeat disasters, repeat outbreaks, and keeping vulnerable places vulnerable unless we simultaneously address long-term building needs.
Take the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in early 2011 as an example. Emergency tents popped up everywhere to stem the tide of the epidemic. And while those response efforts were crucial to halt the surge, the long-term infrastructure that is desperately needed to thwart the next outbreak—waste pipes, toilets, and permanent treatment centers – remains unbuilt. So in its place, to address day-to-day inequities, organizations are pushing for community-based interventions and strong visionary leadership.
GHESKIO, which has provided continuous medical care in Haiti since 1982, is currently leading a response that provides hands-on medical care and preventive treatment to improve health outcomes. And they’ve already seen great results. In 2014, of the 1,195 patients with acute diarrhea treated by GHESKIO, less than 40 percent of patients had documented cholera and none of those who received the oral cholera vaccine had cholera. Even more striking however is that only about 8 percent of the patients came from the slums of Cite de Dieu (estimated 75,000 people), which is the immediate catchment area of the center.
These low rates mark significant progress in addressing the health needs of vulnerable populations. But without strong infrastructure these successes will be limited. To fully address cholera and other health challenges, we need both effective health care and strong long-term infrastructure.
This is why, in 2013, MASS Design Group and Les Centres GHESKIO made a CGI commitment to build Port-au-Prince’s first Permanent Diarrhea Training and Treatment Center. This center will not only provide space for patients to receive treatment for the disease, but also ensure safe decontamination of waste and provide clean chlorinated water from an on-site Chlorine factory – minimizing the recontamination of water and consequent spread of cholera.
For more stories about the Clinton Foundation's work in Haiti visit Partners in Haiti's Future.
A permanent center also means that more patients can be treated and more staff can be trained, thereby increasing local capacity and improving services in the long term. Finally, the center will provide educational opportunities for the population and door-to door oral cholera vaccine delivery. The center’s holistic approach will help us advance our goal of not just treating cholera, but eliminating the disease entirely.
A building alone is not enough, but a building coupled with effective health care can begin to build Haiti’s capacity to withstand future disasters. It is our hope, too, that this collaboration proves why more long-termism is needed – and how we can effectively work to prevent the next disaster while still dealing with our current crises.