skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXII, No. 5
March 5, 2010

next story

Employees Rally Around Relief Efforts
Longtime NIH-Funded HIV/AIDS Research Suffers in Haiti Quake

On the front page...

The catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti’s capital city on Jan. 12 dealt a serious blow to NIH research interests there. GHESKIO, which is a French acronym for the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections, was established in 1982 as the first institution in the world exclusively dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS. The organization’s founder and director, Dr. Jean Pape, is a longtime NIH grantee.

Early Reports Unimaginable

In a statement emailed to employees on Jan. 15, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said, “The thoughts and prayers of all of us have been with the people suffering from the horrendous effects of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti—those in the country and those with friends and family there. Haiti is part of the NIH family. We have 27 research projects in Haiti, primarily on HIV/AIDS and related conditions, supported by a number of NIH institutes and centers including NIAID, NICHD, NIDCR, NIAAA, NIMH, FIC and NCI…Our sincere gratitude goes out to all who are contributing to the relief efforts through donations and volunteer activities to help Haiti respond to this terrible tragedy.”


  Annette Edwards (l) and Rachel N. West pack up supplies for Haiti relief.  
  Annette Edwards (l) and Rachel N. West pack up supplies for Haiti relief.  

The Commissioned Corps was activated immediately by the assistant secretary for health, and at least two NIH’ers were deployed the week of Jan. 18—one to Haiti and another to the Secretary’s Operations Center to help prepare reports for the President on the status of medical care in the devastated nation.

Updates on conditions by Pape, who was himself injured in the quake, have been posted online at http://weill.

In the earliest reports, Pape described structural damage sustained by the facility’s downtown site, which is located in central Port-au-Prince, near the epicenter of the quake. Clinic walls fell onto a gas reservoir, leaving the facility without fuel to operate its generators. Most buildings were deemed unsafe to occupy. In addition, several staffers and family members were not immediately accounted for, including Maryse Thimothee, head of GHESKIO’s bacteriology lab. It was later learned that she had been killed when her home collapsed. Three other staffers also have been reported dead.

Recent Updates Uplifting

OHR members (from l) Eulania McDowell, Cynthia
OHR members (from l) Eulania McDowell, Cynthia Bolton and West are among dozens of NIH’ers participating in Haiti relief efforts across the agency.

Two days after the quake, however, Haiti’s resiliency was clearly in evidence: GHESKIO was back up and running, providing much-needed water and shelter to several thousand people, including patients and other survivors in the vicinity. A report about the facility’s quick transition from requiring help to offering it can be found online at

The loss of lives—some official counts report more than 212,000 people—was epic. In addition, severe threat of disease via infection, starvation, exposure and general unsanitary conditions, as well as the mental and emotional aftermath, are difficult to quantify. In the nearly 2 months since the tragedy, recovery has steadily progressed.

NLM Launches Page on Earthquake
Health-Related Resources

The National Library of Medicine has launched a new web page of Haiti earthquake health information, which gathers links about the situation from both government agencies and non-governmental organizations. There is also a section with Haitian Creole and French-language materials. Links to background information on earthquakes and subsequent health issues such as public health assessments and emergency surgical care are included as well.

The page will continue to expand and will add a section on hazards of concrete dust and other airborne particulates from collapsed buildings and subsequent clean-up activities. You can also send comments and suggestions about additional health information content to The information is compiled by the Disaster Information Management Research Center, Specialized Information Services, NLM.

“The first phase of the disaster in Haiti is now ending, with hundreds of thousands of people having died from trauma,” according to an article by Pape and associates published in the Feb. 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. “But the second phase promises to be as cruel as the first, with deaths due to exposure, starvation and infectious diseases. Millions of Haitians are homeless and have no food, clean water, sanitation or primary health care. And the rainy season is coming.

“The Port-au-Prince clinic of [GHESKIO] has become a refugee camp and an emergency field hospital, even as we continue to run our clinic for thousands of patients with AIDS or tuberculosis. Despite our own losses (four GHESKIO staff members died, four were critically injured, 28 lost an immediate family member and 90 are homeless), we continue to provide medical care around the clock, working with international partners.”

NIH’ers Rally Around Relief Efforts

In response to the crisis, several relief efforts led independently by individuals as well as small groups sprang to life across NIH.

“Anything that occurs in Haiti is of personal interest to me because I am of Haitian descent,” said Rachel N. West of NIH’s Office of Human Resources. “Hearing that Haiti suffered this terrible earthquake literally broke my heart…Seeing the horrific images on TV, I knew that the NIH as a community could do something to help. I wanted to do something for Haiti.

“With all the worry and anxiety I was feeling for my family in Haiti,” she noted, “I had to combat the helplessness I was feeling. Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius issued an email to all HHS employees about relief efforts in Haiti and encouraged us to do what we could to help. Upon receiving that email, I asked our Client Services Division director, Valerie Gill, if we could start an internal donation drive for Haiti. She was very supportive of the idea and I began coordinating the effort with members of her immediate staff and solicited volunteers. I created flyers and researched organizations that were on the ground doing work in Haiti and helping earthquake victims.”

The group joined with International Relief and Development, Inc. (IRD), an organization founded in 1998 that has provided “over $1.25 billion in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations around the world,” according to its web site.

Bolton shows boxes stacked high with toiletries prepared for transport to Haiti.
Bolton shows boxes stacked high with toiletries prepared for transport to Haiti.

West reports that IRD has received more than $200,000 in cash donations since Jan. 13. The money will be used immediately to purchase basic humanitarian aid for the people of Haiti and help cover delivery costs of items to Port-au-Prince. [To read more about IRD, go to]

“The CSD Haitian Relief Donation Drive held for 2 weeks [Jan. 25 to Feb. 5] was a huge success,” West said. “We collected a little more than 50 boxes of medical supplies and toiletries. The first week, we packed and collected approximately 30 boxes. The generosity has been overwhelming.”

Still Time to Help

Another relief effort is being spearheaded by Maxime Debrosse, a medical student currently doing research in NICHD’s Laboratory of Molecular Growth Regulation.

“On Jan. 12, I turned on the TV set to the unimaginable—a 7.3 magnitude earthquake had just hit Haiti,” he said. “I couldn’t reach my family in Port-au-Prince. When I finally did, I learned that my uncle was missing. Fortunately, he was found alive 2 days later, but it became clear to me that, in 36 seconds, countless Haitian lives were changed forever, for the worse. The following day, pondering upon ways to help minimize a tragic trend, I created a fundraising page on the Mercy Corps web site, through which many people generously donated.”

Later, he and several research fellows teamed up with the NIH R&W Association to organize a three-part—raffle, auction and bar social—event that will be held on Mar. 12-13.

On staff since September 2009 as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute research scholar, Debrosse said, “Despite laudable rescue efforts, there remains a shortage of food, clean water and medical supplies. In the face of that heart-wrenching reality, financial donations are the best approach.”

So far, the web site alone has raised more than $2,500, with an ambitious goal of $50,000 after all events are tallied. Debrosse suggests three ways people can help:

  • Donate money to the Mercy Corps site at, or to the Red Cross, Partners in Health, CARE, Yele Haiti or UNICEF.
  • Participate in the raffle. Tickets are $5 each, or 3 for $10. Grand prize: a trip to Bear Mountain Creek Resort, Berks County, Pa. (Pocono Mountains). Drawing to be held Mar. 13 at Hard Times Café. All proceeds benefit Haiti earthquake survivors.
  • Attend upcoming Bethesda fundraising events. Bar night at Blackfinn Restaurant, Friday, Mar. 12. Suggested donation at the door, $5. Auction at Hard Times Café, Saturday, Mar. 13. For event information or raffle tickets, email

For more detailed information on NIH and HHS Haiti relief efforts, visit NIHRecord Icon

back to top of page