Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Yesterday was the birthday of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, if he were alive he would have been 115 years old. If you are unfamiliar with his work google him. He of course won the Nobel Peace Prize, and was a great philosopher, and a medical doctor, but when I think of him, I think of a compassionate humanist.

I was thinking of him these past few days because of the disaster in Haiti, and the human suffering that is going on there right now, and has been going on there for centuries. Schweitzer dedicated his life to alleviating human suffering and to, in some small way, right wrongs perpetrated by colonialists and white imperialism. Haiti is undoubtedly as vivid an example of the awful results of this shameful past as any poverty stricken country in Africa.

“Who can describe the injustice and cruelties that in the course of centuries they [the coloured peoples] have suffered at the hands of Europeans? … If a record could be compiled of all that has happened between the white and the coloured races, it would make a book containing numbers of pages which the reader would have to turn over unread because their contents would be too horrible.”

It came as no surprise to learn that there is an Albert Schweitzer hospital in Haiti, and as luck would have it, it is located outside the damaged zone. It has been operating for over fifty years and is a fully functioning facility with all the attendant infrastructure. As would be expected they are swamped with patients and at this point the doctors are near breaking point, working round the clock doing the best they can with what they have. Right now they are in need of more supplies and more doctors. Their hospital is unharmed. Ironically while other hospitals lie in rubble there are doctors (now with nowhere to practice) who may not know their services are desperately needed at the fully functioning and intact Schweitzer facility.

Communications are largely limited to the internet and the director of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital Haiti, Ian Rawson, has started a blog. It is a unique, on the ground perspective of what is going on there, and I for one am overwhelmed with emotion reading this. It is wrenching. It is happening now. We can help here.

UPDATED: January 19th, 2010
Haiti Hospital: 500 Patients in an 80 Bed Facility
January 19, 2010 4:03 PM
ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser reports from Port au Prince, Haiti:
On the road to Hospital Albert Schweitzer, 50 miles and 3 hours north of Port au Prince. I want to see what is
happening at one of the closest full-service hospitals to the city. Racing thru traffic. More than a dozen water
tanker trucks so far. That is a new and promising sign. Traffic is incredibly bad. Fruit for sale by the side of the
road. People, people walking everywhere.
Bridge is blocked. Not safe. Need to try another route.
Found bridge and now barreling down ruddy roads. Good news is the speedometer is broken, otherwise I’d be
even more nervous.
Major deforestation on the both sides. Little development. Nearing site of old Club Med. Closed for more than
a decade.
On the way back to Port au Prince. Hospital Albert Schweitzer incredible.
500 patients in an 80 bed facility. Patients have traveled here to get care
they couldn’t find in Port au Prince. Head trauma, multiple fractures,
infected wounds. 20-30 orthopedic surgeries since sunday. Staff
exhausted. Running out of pain medicine and antibiotics.
I ask the head pediatrician about the regular patients: children with
malnutrition, pneumonia, typhoid fever. She doesn’t know where they are.
Travel is difficult and there is little room for anything but trauma.

Ian Rawson, a gentle soul who runs the hospital, feels the suffering of the Haitian people deeply. He was
raised here and has worked for 50 years on HAS going back and forth to the US. His eyes tear up as I ask
him about the past week. Due to decreased philanthropy he had laid off staff the day before the earthquake.
When the quake hit, many came back. He doesn’t know how he’ll pay them but he’ll find a way.
One week after the quake there is a major mismatch between the needs of patients and the availability of
supplies, facilities, and trained staff. So much of the success going forward will depend on logistics: getting
medical supplies flowing, getting hospitals up and running, clearing the logjam of patients needing care, and
figuring out where homeless people can go to recuperate.

The Albert Schweitzer Hospital Haiti Blog

Direct to Main Hospital Site (more info and donations)

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