Medical alumnus Read McGehee, M’61, recently returned from his semi-annual trip to Tovar, Haiti, where he volunteers in a local medical clinic. Tovar is located in the northern part of the country near the second most populated city of Caphaitien.
McGehee first traveled to Haiti in 1970 with the Centers for Disease Control to assess their malaria evaluation program. He’s been going ever since, sometimes as much as four times a year. He currently travels with a friend’s church, Providence United Methodist Church, based in Charlotte, N.C.
While working in the clinic in Tovar, McGehee sees anywhere from 35 to 50 adult patients in just one day, all with varying medical needs. This past visit, for example, the clinic treated a young child with malaria who managed to make it to the clinic despite the two- to three-mile trek — an incredible journey through the region, especially when ill. According to McGehee, “we were able to load him up with fluids and anti-malaria drugs and give him a ride home on a motorcycle.”
McGehee also met an older woman who was unsure of her age, but he guessed it to be around 60. She had devoted herself to taking care of her nine grandchildren after their parents were killed during the horrific earthquake that tore apart Port-au-Prince in early 2010. The grandmother confessed she is unable to feed all her grandchildren and afraid she will not be able to provide for them.
“Under the best circumstances, people in Haiti live in wretched conditions,” said McGehee. “With the earthquake, then the hurricane and now the cholera epidemic, the suffering is unimaginable. It really got to me more than it ever has before.”
He explained that the cholera outbreak had not yet reached the northern part of the country, but that it is only a matter of time. Most of the patients McGehee saw are those who are moving away from the big cities to try and find a safe place to live, an indirect effect of the cholera outbreak and the earthquake.
When asked how Americans can help, McGehee replied, “It’s a difficult question. There are individual foundations that are using money effectively, but there is a heck of a lot of money that is sitting on the table waiting for an organization. There is virtually no infrastructure to use the money.” He’s seen examples of charities putting money to good use, like the orphanage founded by a Charlottesville friend that houses and feeds more than 200 children. Some interpreters he met in Haiti have also started a home for children in Port-au-Prince.