Haiti: interview with Ruth Bücker – “I hope the people will find some peace”

by Sven Ramones,  2010/11/16

Shortly before she returned from Haiti, we had the possibility of holding an interview with Ruth Bücker. For a period of two weeks, the 26 year-old had accompanied the humedica team on its mission for the people on the island state. Some weeks ago, a cholera epidemic spread in the country which had been shaken by a devastating earthquake only in January 2010.

Ruth, you are just returning from Haiti. What is the current situation there like? What is your impression of the situation?

I have been to Haiti for two weeks and since the Caribbean state had mostly been spared from destructions by hurricane “Tomas” and the number of persons infected with cholera had at first decreased, the team and I came to the conclusion that the situation would at least not aggravate further.

Unfortunately, we probably made this cautious assessment too early. The day before my return to Germany the number of patients coming to our hospital in Drouin rose once more. And this was not only the case at our hospital: numerous relief organisations working in the north of the country reported an increasing number of cholera patients. According to those reports up to 200 patients per day were treated at one single hospital.

Ruth Bücker accompanied the humedica team in Haiti for two weeks. Photo: humedica/Irmgard Harms

According to diverse statements, in the meantime there have been first cases of cholera also in the capital Port-au-Prince. This put us on the alert even more, since above all the slums of the city are home to large numbers of people who live closely together under unsanitary conditions.

What measures are being taken in order to help the people in Haiti regarding the cholera epidemic?

Medical help is basically very simple: infected patients are given antibiotics to kill the cholera bacteria in their intestines and depending on their level of dehydration their fluid balance is established once more by means of giving them water to drink or putting them on a drip infusion. There just has to be someone who disposes of the necessary materials and knowledge.

Furthermore the drinking water we give the patients contains minerals and salts which their bodies have lost. We talk to them about the way cholera spreads, explain to them how they can prevent other people from contracting the disease and give them some general advice regarding hygiene.

The United Nations and other relief organisations furthermore ensure that the population receives food and clean drinking water.

In which region is the humedica team deployed?

In the meantime, our team has been divided up and is currently working at two different hospitals in the north of Haiti. At the cholera treatment centre in Drouin the humedica doctors continue caring for the patients who live in the region. We had started to offer medical care in this city immediately after the first cases of cholera had been confirmed and we have managed to keep the situation mostly under control. Also now the number of patients is comparatively low.

More than one million people in Haiti are still living in tent cities or makeshift accommodations. Photo: humedica/Ruth Bücker

In order to expand medical care, two humedica doctors and a nurse are furthermore fighting the cholera epidemic at another hospital in the north of Haiti. Together with the local hospital staff they save several persons’ lives day by day.

We are still assessing to what extend medical aid could be expanded also to Port-au-Prince. If in the worst case the cholera epidemic starts spreading in the megacity, it will certainly be possible to once more set up a place of hope – like we did in January – where people will be healed and brought back into life.

Who are the ones most vulnerable in the current situation?

Most vulnerable are – as is unfortunately always the case – those belonging to the poorer part of the population, old persons and children.

Cholera spreads particularly fast if people have no access to clean water and live under unhygienic conditions. And the bodies of older persons or children in particular do not dispose of much resistance in order to fight the aggressive intestinal bacteria.

What was your most impressive experience during the time you stayed with the team in Haiti?

It is difficult to summarise it like this, since for me every day was full of completely foreign and partly frightening, but also very happy experiences.

It is the children in particular who are most vulnerable to the cholera epidemic. Photo: humedica/Ruth Bücker

But I think that my most impressive experience was the encounter with two persons who already were closer to death than to life. Above all I was deeply touched by the encounter with a little boy who became weaker and weaker and was in danger of dying just before our very eyes. The uncertainty whether he would survive or not bothered me for days.

And then, this morning, our coordinator Caroline told me that the little boy has survived. The fact that we saved this little boy’s life may be only a drop in the ocean. But for me it is especially important, since I was contributing to this drop and could experience how we can help the people with simple means.

What is your biggest hope for the people in Haiti?

My biggest hope at the moment is that the horror scenario of the cholera epidemic will not become reality and that together the government, the United Nations and the relief organisations will be able to prevent more people from dying of cholera.

In the long run I hope that the people in Haiti will finally find some peace. That they will find the strength of meeting the ever newly arising challenges without losing their faith and optimism.

Dear Ruth, thank you very much for this interview and I wish you all the best for your work also in future.

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