Hello Beautiful People! Hoping that everyone had an enjoyable, peaceful weekend. I wanted to originally commemorate Haiti's flag day, but as I thought about it, it became rather difficult to celebrate a holiday while Haiti is going through so much; it is hard to create fanfare when our brothers and sisters on the island "that could" is undergoing yet another crisis-COVID 19.
"You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it"
Since 1803 when revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines tore up the French tri-color flag and had his god-daughter, Catherine Flon, stitch together Haiti's first independent flag, consisting of just the red and blue stripe, minus the central white stripe of the French flag-an intentional act not only cementing Haiti's break from French rule but as a symbol speaking to the unity of the Haitian nation's people of color and the rejection of former white colonizers. It was not until January 1, 1804, that Haiti officially declared independence from France; becoming the first FREE state in the Caribbean liberated and governed by its former slaves.
Haiti has undergone its share of devastating challenges, from political unrest, extreme poverty, and natural disasters, Haiti is now in the crosshairs of COVID-19. For quite some time, the land border that separates Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR) was also the point of two very different coronavirus outbreaks. In DR, COVID cases were the highest in the Caribbean due to its strong tourism industry. For the most part, Haiti was largely spared due to a year of political unrest that had the country isolated.
However, over the last number of weeks, Haiti was no longer immune to the impact of the coronavirus. Large numbers of Haitian workers have returned from DR, many bringing the virus with them; the influx of returnees is expected to set off an outbreak that the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere may be unable to fight. Haiti and DR each have populations at about 11 million, yet these neighboring countries are far from equal. The average Haitian is 10 times poorer than the average Dominican. Haiti's infant mortality rate is twice as high. In terms of employment, at least 500,000 Haitians work in DR; remittance sent home by all Haitians abroad make up a third of Haiti's GDP.
As DR closed down in response to its coronavirus outbreak, it suspended the temporary legal status of more than 150,000 Haitian workers. Undocumented Haitians lost jobs as well. According to the International Organization for Migration, it is estimated that 22,000 Haitians were returning home each week. Many Haitians have entered the country through informal crossing points and those who show symptoms at official borders have been allowed to enter the country. Between insecure border crossings and the inability to practice social distancing and a refusal by a majority of the country to wear masks makes the situation and the gravity of it undeniable.
Haiti has four medical centers with a total of 200 beds treating patients with COVID 19. There are plans to set up facilities, but with that comes its own challenges as a number of communities have opposed the construction of these centers which they worry could spread the virus in their neighborhoods. Haiti's public health infrastructure has been disintegrated over the last decade by crises; the 2010 earthquake that killed at least 200,000 people, a cholera outbreak that killed another 10,000 and political clashes last year that caused violence to surge.
Because of the stigma attached to the disease, many people with symptoms have resisted quarantine. Those who present with fevers are referred to local hospitals, but not all choose to go. A treating physician in Haiti (who asked to remain anonymous for this blog interview) who volunteers for Doctors Without Borders told me that there have been instances where people have threatened to burn down the houses of people suspected of having COVID 19. "The disease is not well understood by the general population. There is worry about the next phase in cross border migration-when Haiti's coronavirus cases peak and the cases in DR begin to decline, more than likely there will be a large number of Haitians who will make an attempt to go back to DR."
So once again, Haiti is faced with a crisis; my mother's country of origin faced with a pandemic that threatens to sicken and kill many. At its core, it is heartbreaking; a country that never seems to "catch a break" finds itself at the crosshairs of another disaster-this time in the form of a disease. Haiti has weathered the storm many times over; Haitian people are strong, resilient, and carry a faith that has gotten them through the worst of times. It is etched in the country's makeup; They will get through this. In Union there is strength.
If you would like to help by donation or in need of additional information, go to Doctors Without Borders: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/