Haiti's First Public Medical School; A History of Occupation
A NACLA article offers a glimpse into the state of health care in Haiti - and perhaps why some Haitians may be skeptical of current U.S. and UN relief efforts - by examining the the history and evolution of "Haiti’s first and only public medical school." The school was a joint project by the governments of Taiwan, Cuba and Haiti.
In a declaration full of optimism and hope, the Dean of Health Sciences, Dr. Yves Polynice stated: “The inauguration of the Aristide Foundation University is an opportunity to renew our Hippocratic Oath where each physician pledges to care for the poor, widows, and orphans free of cost. We must be conscious that any illness affecting one citizen represents a threat to us all. Today we say ‘health care for all, without exclusion.’ ” On February 3, 2004, the hospital officially opened its doors and began treating many of Haiti’s most vulnerable. For many it was their first visit to a doctor.
However things rapidly took a turn for the worse:
Just two weeks later, on the evening of February 28, 2004, Aristide was overthrown and forcibly removed to the Central African Republic in an internationally organized coup d’état. Less than one month after its opening, the hospital and the university complex it was part of were closed down at gunpoint and occupied by U.S. Marines and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The 247 new medical students watched as their classrooms were turned into barracks, their instructors forced to flee from political persecution (due to threats on his life, Dr. Polynice fled to Europe), and much of their material and equipment pillaged to service the capital's private medical clinics.
The school was reopened in 2009, albeit with a different curriculum and mandate, but as NACLA reports, in the aftermath of the earthquake:
[M]any of the medical students who had left in February 2004 returned to the site of the university and reunited with teams of Cuban doctors to provide emergency care and treatment for the disaster’s victims. Surprisingly, the medical school survived the quake intact, and by January 15 became a site of refuge for more than 10,000 victims of the earthquake.
Again, this did not last long:
On February 10, filmmaker and activist Kevin Pina reported to the Canada Haiti Action Network that the medical school at the University of Tabarre had been once again occupied — this time by troops of the U.S. Southern Command.